AMES, IOWA -- Jameel McKay didn’t figure he needed words to convey his thoughts as Iowa State teetered on disaster, so he clenched his left hand into a fist and covered it with his large right hand. If Iowa State wanted to avoid further embarrassment, it needed to act as the big man’s hands in front of them.
“That’s like a rock. Can’t nobody break us,” McKay said afterward, still clenching his hand. “We were all one. Can’t nothing break a rock, that’s how I feel.”
Oklahoma tried with all its might to break Iowa State on Monday night at Hilton Coliseum, and given the way the first half unfolded it appeared the Sooners would. Iowa State scored a season-low 18 first-half points and committed 10 turnovers before the break as Oklahoma took a 19-point lead to halftime.
And while McKay often let the rock formed with his large hands do the talking on this night, he did use words when halftime finally ended a forgettable 20 minutes.
“If you don’t believe we can win this game, don’t walk out of the locker room at halftime,” McKay told the team. “Everybody walked out, so I knew we all believed we could win. That’s what we did.”
Did they ever. Behind a 22-0 second-half run, No. 17 Iowa State surged back to beat No. 15 Oklahoma, 77-70, on Senior Night, capping a 21-point comeback that matched the largest in school history.
Iowa State had every chance to finally break, and it wasn’t as if the second half started much better than the first. The Cyclones went on a mini run after a sluggish start out of the break to draw within 15, only to watch the Sooners surge back ahead by 20 at the first media timeout.
That’s when Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins drew a technical for taunting.
“I think when someone gets up in your face telling you how they’re kicking your butt, you’re going to retaliate in some way,” Georges Niang said. “I think that was just the push that we needed. It’s too bad that it took us until the second half to get that, but I thought the guys really fought hard.”
Niang hit the two technical free throws and Iowa State was off. He drove to the hoop for an and-one layup on the next possession and then drove again and dished to Monte Morris for a 3-pointer on the next. Suddenly, Iowa State was within 12.
“I knew we could come back… If we could come out and just play a game within a game,” McKay said. “Try to outscore them by five every four minutes and just play a game within a game and then just see where it takes us at the end.”
It took less than two ‘games’ for Iowa State to make it a game. In a span of 5 minutes, 41 seconds, the Cyclones went on that 22-0 run, which helped it take a two-point lead, its first of the game. Oklahoma would tie the game twice more, but Iowa State, scoring a season-high 59 second-half points, held a lead for the final eight minutes.
The historic comeback was largely helped by Niang (23 points) and Morris (19). The two scored 37 of their 42 points in the second half.
“Our guys kept plugging away and chipping away at it,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I didn’t go in there and jump on them [at halftime], I just talked about playing the right way, going out and sharing the ball.”
The win not only helped Iowa State avoid back-to-back home losses for the first time since 2011 and a three-game losing streak heading into its regular season finale Saturday, it also pushed the Cyclones to a second-place tie in the conference with Oklahoma.
The tale of two halves Monday night was really a tale of an unbroken unit.
“[Jameel was] really preaching to us in the huddle that we can’t be broken,” Niang said. “We need to stick together and we’re like a (rock) and we can’t be broken. Credit to him. He really stepped up in the leadership category tonight and really pulled us together and really willed us to the finish line mentally.”
More than words, it a was clenched fist that acted as a symbol for Iowa State’s latest feat, and that is now a symbol of a renewed 2014-15 season.
“We stayed together and nothing broke us through thick and thin and we came out with the win,” McKay said. “Best game — I’m so happy to be a part of it.”