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2021-22 Cyclones restored pride in Iowa State men’s basketball program
‘Special run’ is over but Cyclones holding heads high after turnaround season
CHICAGO — The clock had long ticked past midnight and trickled into Saturday morning.
Iowa State’s players were still grappling with the fact that their wholly unlikely, but fully real NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 run had ended with a 70-56 setback to Miami at the United Center.
It didn’t seem right. It didn’t feel right. But as Cyclones first-year head coach T.J Otzelberger spoke, his words chronicled an ongoing story founded on trust, hope and a science fiction-type level of belief.
“This group will be very dear to me,” Otzelberger said. “And I’ll always remember what these guys did each and every day.”
That’s grind. That’s learn and adapt. That’s develop deep bonds that sometimes frayed, but never spilt as ISU turned last season’s 2-22 disaster into a distant memory and restored pride in the program.
“This is a special run,” said senior forward George Conditt, who was one of two rotational players returning from last season’s team. “Like T.J. said, you never knew — I mean, when we signed up for this, we didn’t know wins, losses. We just wanted to go out there and play hard and bring pride back to Iowa State.”
The biggest turnaround in Cyclone history is now over. The Hurricanes (26-10) had plenty to do with that, but so did ISU’s inability to hit 3-point shots (4 of 22) or finish around the rim.
“They’re an amazing group,” Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga said about his team. “They earned that (Friday) because they beat a very fine opponent.”
The 11th-seeded Cyclones trailed all but 16 seconds of the game, but remained within striking distance until 10th-seeded Miami took a 55-44 lead on a Charlie Moore jumper with 6:17 left. ISU never got within three possessions of the lead after that — and lost for the first time against a non-Big 12 foe this season.
“They did a better job than we did in terms of disruption and creating live-ball turnovers,” said Otzelberger, whose team gave up 14 points off 18 turnovers. “They made some timely shots when we made our runs as well. So a lot of credit to them. (Friday) just wasn’t our night.”
It did cap a mindbogglingly good season. A foundation is set. A springboard emerges. The Cyclones will welcome a variety of newcomers next season, including talented incoming freshmen such as Tamin Lipsey and Eli King, along with versatile 6-7 sit-out transfer Tre King.
All of this season’s players technically could use a COVID-19 year and return to the program, but no one was talking about that in the wake of the loss — and it’s unlikely more than a handful would be wise to make that choice anyway. However compelling the origin story, sometimes the sequels are destined to be better.
“Hopefully (everyone) knows what we’ve done, how much heart we gave to this team and put it on the court each and every night until that final buzzer sounds,” said senior transfer guard Gabe Kalscheur, who along with freshman point guard Tyrese Hunter scored a team-best 13 points. “I loved playing with the guys. With this coaching staff. We made an incredible run. I just hope everyone noticed how much work we put into this season.”
They noticed — and came in droves to the United Center to cheer on the Cyclones, but that doesn’t take the sting out of seeing this run end one win short of the Elite Eight.
“When that final buzzer went off, it hurt a little bit because the season’s over with,” Conditt said. “But at the same time you have to hold your head up high.”
Otzelberger ensured that they will.
“I’ll remember these guys for their heart, their fight, for their sacrifice to one another, for the trust they bestowed in our coaching staff, for rolling up their sleeves and just doing the work every single day,” Otzelberger said. “It wasn’t easy, but they kept coming back.”
That mentality is what got Penn State transfer and Cyclone leading scorer Izaiah Brockington to come to Ames in the first place. He scored 11 points Friday while grabbing seven rebounds. He’d put the team on his back when it needed four straight wins late in Big 12 play, but gave thanks for shouldering that responsibility.
“I mean, this staff, this team, the fans, the school, every single one of them changed my life,” said Brockington, a transfer from Penn State who picked ISU over several other schools. “I’m forever grateful to them — and I’m proud to be a Cyclone.”