KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State was down five points to Kansas State with 2:47 left in the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament semifinals Friday.
Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm had a message for his team.
“It was about execution, making free throws and finishing plays,” Prohm said. “I told them, ‘We’re playing in the Big 12 semifinals — this is the best. What else do you want?’”
His team did that.
Nick Weiler-Babb sank two free throws immediately following the timeout. Iowa State executed on the defensive end and got a stop and then Marial Shayok finished plays.
Shayok made back-to-back 3-pointers to put Iowa State up three with less than a minute left in the game.
Fifth-seed Iowa State (22-11) closed the door on No. 1-seed Kansas State (25-8) at Sprint Center, winning 63-59 to advance to its fourth Big 12 tournament championship game in six seasons. The Cyclones, who have never lost in a Big 12 championship game, will play No. 3-seed Kansas at 5 p.m. (ESPN).
Shayok’s first clutch 3-pointer came after a Michael Jacobson offensive rebound. Jacobson kicked it out to Tyrese Haliburton, who found Shayok in the corner after Weiler-Babb set a screen to get him open.
The shot to tie the game hit the rim, bounced up in the air, hit the backboard, hit the rim again and eventually fell through.
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“It bounced way up, it seemed like it was up there an hour,” Haliburton said. “It finally fell. That was big-time. With the ball in his hands, I don’t trust anybody more than Marial to hit that shot.”
Shayok, who had missed his previous five shots, had no doubt it was going in.
“I knew it had to go in,” Shayok said. “I couldn’t miss that many in a row. My mechanics, my muscle memory — I knew I stuck the shot.”
The next time down the court, with the game tied at 55, Shayok got the ball in the corner with no room and the shot clock winding down. He created some separation with a step back, and this time, he left no doubt. The shot was all net.
“I’ve been working on that shot every day, not recently because of the toe (injury),” Shayok said. “I’ve been working on that shot for the last two years.”
Shayok led both teams in scoring and finished the night with 21 points.
“He’s earned the right to make that game-winning shot,” Prohm said. “He had a great look to tie it at 55, too, it went all around the rim and in. He’s earned the right to get that roll. He shoots every day, he’s been bought in and he’s been a rock for this team.
“Hopefully we win (Saturday) so that shot can go down in Iowa State folklore like Monte (Morris’) a couple of years ago.”
Weiler-Babb was on Iowa State’s most recent championship team.
“It’s going to take toughness,” Weiler-Babb said. “My first championship down here, me Donovan (Jackson) and (Darrell) Bowie came off the bench and we made an impact. You never know when your name is going to be called. Fatigue is going to settle in, so we have to dig down deep and give it everything we got.”
Prohm believes his team plays best when the lights are brightest. The moment doesn’t get much bigger than a conference championship game.
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“It’s part of playing at this level,” Prohm said. “The lights are bright, and the rewards are huge. We have an opportunity to get a big reward (Saturday) night for being able to go through some tough moments.
“It speaks volumes of those kids in the locker room that when everybody was talking about us splintering apart and having all these issues. This team’s character, toughness and who they really are showed up. You don’t beat Kansas State on a neutral floor unless you have some toughness to you, especially if you’re down five with three minutes to go.”
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