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Iowa State men’s basketball falters late in ‘must-win’ game against Kansas State
Cyclones blow 15-point lead at home and fall, 75-69 in OT
AMES — Aljaz Kunc couldn’t miss. Izaiah Brockington couldn’t be stopped. Iowa State led Kansas State 50-37 with 16:16 left Saturday at Hilton Coliseum and the fans were frolicking.
Then, the mood began to slowly shift. The Cyclones tensed up and cooled off. The Wildcats rallied to force overtime and ultimately prevailed, 75-69, before a crowd of 13,477 stunned into silence.
So how did it happen? The answer is both simple and problematic.
“They wanted to win more than we wanted to win and that’s something that everyone in our program, and everyone on our team has to swallow and live with,” said ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team tumbled to 16-9 overall and 3-9 in Big 12 play. “Our backs couldn’t be more against the wall, but we’re gonna lead in such a way that we have an unrelenting competitive spirit and fight, and we’re gonna come back stronger. That’s the only thing we’re gonna accept and tolerate from the young men in our program.”
Kansas State (13-11, 5-7) trailed by as many as 15 points in the second half, but used a late 12-0 run to seize a 60-58 lead with 4:51 remaining in regulation.
Kunc sank a clutch 3-pointer to put the Cyclones back in front, 63-60, with 3:03 left, but the Wildcats’ Nijel Pack answered with a long-range jumper as the shot clock expired to tie the game and ultimately force overtime.
In the final five minutes, Kansas State turned a 10-1 run into what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
One reason? Live ball turnovers. The Wildcats scored 12 of their 15 points off Cyclones ball-handling miscues in the game’s final 25 minutes — and many came at pivotal junctures down the stretch.
“They got more physical on the defensive end,” said Brockington, who scored a game-high 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting but also took a hard hit to his left knee. “They got more disruptive, started jumping random passes, and doing little things, trying to get in our heads, grabbing. But we’ve just got to not let those live ball turnovers happen. I feel like that gave them a lot of momentum.”
Pack led Kansas State with 19 points and Markquis Nowell notched three of the Wildcats’ eight steals.
Kunc contributed 19 points after not scoring in five of ISU’s previous seven games and George Conditt IV chipped in seven points, seven rebounds, and a career-best seven assists.
So the Cyclones did a lot of good things Saturday, but not nearly enough of them — especially when it counted the most.
ISU shot 31.4 percent overall after halftime and 20 percent from 3-point range.
“(We have) to bring it for all 40, 45 minutes,” Kunc said. “We can’t just bring it for 20 and expect to win.”
Not in this league. And not when the depth-challenged Cyclones’ margin for error is already so small.
“It’s a gut punch,” Otzelberger said.