Manhattan, Kan. — Deep in the bowels of the Octagon of Doom, little needed to be said mere minutes after Iowa State suffered another devastating loss, its second in as many games. Fred Hoiberg appeared sick as he sat at the podium and players searched for answers, trying to figure out what had just happened.
In the end, it was a one-point, 70-69 loss at the hands of Kansas State that left a pit in each member of the team’s stomach as they exited one by one through the gloomy tunnel toward the team bus Saturday, sitting in a three-way tie for third in the Big 12.
“Certain things in life make you want to throw up, and this is certainly one of them,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s a hurt locker room in there.”
Hoiberg was sitting there, in a tiny room tucked away beneath Bramlage Coliseum after Iowa State watched a 12-point second-half lead disappear in the game’s final 10 minutes. He searched for an answer to the game’s final 59 seconds, especially.
After the Cyclones held a four-point lead with nearly three minutes remaining, the Wildcats scored twice in the next two minutes for a 66-all tie with 58.3 seconds and then quickly took a two-point lead after Georges Niang’s 3-pointer was blocked.
When Iowa State got a stop on the defensive end from there, Monte Morris used an and-one to give the Cyclones a 69-68 lead. Iowa State stopped Kansas State again and got a rebound and timeout with 18.4 seconds. Then things went awry.
On the ensuing in-bounds play, a pass from Niang intended for Jameel McKay was tipped and taken in for a dunk and a 70-69 Kansas State lead with 15.9 seconds.
“It’s tough,” Hoiberg said. “You put the ball in your best player’s hands. I trust Georges is going to make the right play 99 percent of the time. It happened. Jameel was flashing to the ball and didn’t quite get there.”
“They tipped a pass and they went and laid it up and won the game,” Niang added. “That’s really what happened.”
Kansas State gave its final foul with 4.8 seconds remaining. On the baseline out of bounds play that followed a timeout, Morris tossed it over mid-court to Niang, who found himself stuck.
“I got it, tried to make a play [and] he cut me off, so I passed it to the next open guy,” Niang said. “There were four seconds left, there wasn’t much we could do.”
The pass went to Long, who fired a 24-foot 3-pointer that fell short of the rim.
“It’s a heartbreaking loss. There’s no secret to it, everybody saw what happened,” Long said afterward. “That’s a shot I can make and I’m hurt as well. I had a look. Whether it looks like that on camera or TV or what not, that was the look. I should have hit the shot.”
There was little to be said, but plenty of accountability.
“I don’t know, I’m lost for words,” Morris offered. “I put that on me making that pass to Georges.”
“The ball got tipped. I passed the ball. That’s my fault,” said Niang, who scored 21 on a career-high five 3s. “There’s nothing more you could say about it.”
So Iowa State exited the Octagon of Doom into the gloomy winter weather Saturday night, refocusing on a quick turnaround as Oklahoma arrives in Ames on Monday.
And still attempting to figure out just what happened.
“You had the game,” Niang said. “You try to hold back your feelings as much as possible, but this is a game we had won. I don’t know how else to explain it.”