It did not start well for Iowa State.
One minute, 13 seconds into Tuesday's game against No. 19 Texas and the Cyclones had already surrendered four offensive rebounds. As they were dominated inside last time they met the Longhorns, it was especially concerning.
"They were playing volleyball on that first possession," ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Eventually Monté Morris would get his hands on the orange and the game would get going for Iowa State — an eventual 85-76 win that saw them outscore Texas in the paint by 22 points and yield 20 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds, a less-than-stellar rate of efficiency for the Longhorns, if you do the math.
Iowa State also put the shackles on UT center Cameron Ridley, limiting the 6-foot-9 sophomore — his girth, Georges Niang joked, makes a battle for paint positioning like a "sumo-wrestling match — to four points on four free throws, 0-for-4 from the field. Compare that to the 16 points on 70 percent shooting Ridley notched Jan. 18 in Austin against ISU. Compare these things, too: ISU shot nearly 50 percent from the field, rather than 39. Senior guard DeAndre Kane made better than half his attempts, instead of 3-for-12. The Cyclones coughed the ball up six times, no 18.
"There was a lot of toughness shown by our team and that really helped us win the game," said Melvin Ejim, who padded his points-per-game average with 25 and also had eight rebounds. "I thought we did a good job not letting them shoot the ball well; I think we did a good job playing defense."
While in recent games the Cyclones were felled by periods of uninspired, milquetoast play (See: 18-Point Lead Goes Poof Against Texas Tech), they didn't let up Tuesday, weathering the Longhorns' best blows and striking back. The teams traded three-pointers on four consecutive series and hung within four points of each other for over five minutes midway through the second half.
"Give our guys credit for continuing to go out there and make plays for each other," Hoiberg said. "Once [Texas] cooled down a bit we were able to extend that lead."
Added Niang: "Coach preaches poise and resolve. I think our team had great resolve tonight and that helped us win."
Just what was the secret to containing Texas' Ridley, who played timidly and missed his four field goals while grabbing five rebounds.
"Our double teams were much better on him this time," Hoiberg said. "Last time he split us. Our angles were better, our hands were more active. And that showed."
Texas coach Rick Barnes chided his team for choking on layups. Ridley was a chief culprit, throwing up an airball two feet from the basket.
"Cam was a nonfactor," Barnes said.
Halves at a Glance
Key stat: Texas shot 27 percent from the floor.
Key play: Melvin Ejim finished an alley-oop from Monté Morris to give the Cyclones a 6-4 lead with 15:59 left in the first half, a play that woke Hilton Coliseum up.
Key stat: ISU's Kane scored 13 points, grabbed three rebounds and notched three assists.
Key play: Melvin Ejim answers Javan Felix's three-pointer — which had answered Matt Thomas', which had followed Connor Lammert's — to give the Cyclones a 65-58 lead.
Quote to Note
"All I'm thinking about is Texas Tech on Saturday" — Hoiberg, who had an untimely slip of tongue in his postgame presser when asked how he thought the Cyclones had set themselves up in the Big 12 race. Hoiberg corrected it, clarifying TCU is ISU's next opponent.
(Speaking of Texas Tech, the Red Raiders put forth a valiant effort Tuesday night, falling to Kansas by one point at home).
What I'm Thinking
Nothing shaky about this for Iowa State, which looked more like the team that had national pundits thinking Final Four run in early January and less like the one that was losers of three out of four a couple weeks ago. Even in recent victories over Texas Tech and Oklahoma, the Cyclones were somewhat unimpressive. They played harder Tuesday. If they can bottle that fire, they'll clean up nicely down the homestretch.