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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was 2:30 Saturday afternoon, the weather in downtown Kansas City was raw, and a ticket-scalper outside Sprint Center was pleading with a silver-haired woman wearing Iowa State garb to accept his price for tickets into the Big 12 men’s basketball championship game.
“Come on, ma’am,” the scalper said, “it’s cold out here. I need a little something for that.” But his terms weren’t to her liking and she walked away.
Iowa State set the agenda all the way around here, from its fans who made up the vast majority of the crowd of 18,972 to the team that did what few do and out-defensed 11th-ranked West Virginia.
The Cyclones led the second half from pillar to post. They earned an 80-74 win over the Mountaineers, and claimed their third Big 12 tourney trophy in the last four years.
“That’s unbelievable,” said second-year ISU Coach Steve Prohm.
Add this to the hard-to-believe department: Against the team that leads the nation in steals, Iowa State had 11 swipes to West Virginia’s five.
“We were scrappy defensively,” Cyclone guard Matt Thomas said. “We felt like they punked us the first two times we played (a pair of double-digit West Virginia wins).”
The Mountaineers proudly call themselves “Press Virginia” because of their nightmare-inducing full-court press. This night, they were “Pressured Virginia.”
Iowa State grew into a pretty good defensive team as this season progressed. It was a terrific defensive club in Kansas City.
The Big 12’s worst rebounding team even did that well Saturday, collecting four more boards than their taller, beefier opposition.
“We were good enough defensively to win,” said Prohm. “We were tough enough to win.”
This wasn’t 40 minutes of offensive beauty for ISU. But when they were good Saturday they were sensational, and that was a lot. It was ball-on-a-string stuff at times, with maestro Monte Morris giving yet another virtuoso performance.
The senior point guard added “scorer” to his job description this season, and he closed the first half by working over the Mountaineers. He hit three jumpers in the last two minutes of the first half after running the shot clock to a nub on all three possessions.
Morris’ 3-pointer with five seconds left gave Iowa State a 35-29 halftime lead. West Virginia never got closer than four points and drifted behind by as many as 12. But as you would expect, they made the Cyclones earn this.
Instead of tucking it in on offense leads of seven and nine points and just a few minutes left, the Cyclones went for the jugular. They repeatedly smashed the WVU press in crunch time.
Trailing 73-64 with 2:11 left, West Virginia stopped the clock by fouling. ISU took all of two seconds of game clock to go the length of the floor to score. Naz Mitrou-Long’s long lob to fellow senior Deonte Burton produced a dunk and a crowd-reaction that may have combined to loosen molars on both sides of the Missouri River.
That was the final exclamation point on a three-day-long exclamation point of a tournament for the Cyclones.
Iowa State shot 54.6 percent from the field in the tourney. They made 30 3-pointers. They had eight players who made significant contributions. They turned a 16-8 deficit into a 16-16 tie on eight points from three subs. One, Darrell Bowie, had 10 first-half points and made everything he shot in the half.
“We have so many weapons on the offensive end,” Bowie said after the game as he held the title trophy. “We feel anybody can be the one doing the scoring. It happened to be me in the first half.”
Prohm can coach, folks. The team that got blitzed at Iowa in December and went 4-5 in January became something quite different. You could see this outfit was formidable before it got to what Iowa State’s players and fans call Hilton South.
The NCAA tournament Midwest Regional semifinals and finals are here. If the Cyclones could just get placed in that region and win two games to get back here ...
“I told the guys we don’t want this to be the highlight,” Thomas said. “We still have a month left together.”