AMES, IOWA — With a touch less than four minutes remaining Saturday night, Iowa State headed to the bench for the final timeout facing a challenge and hoping to overcome what as of late had been its Achilles heel.
Steve Prohm presented a challenge: “Do you have the will to win?”
The No. 14 Cyclones had watched late leads disappear time and time again in recent weeks in the final handful of minutes. First it was Texas A&M, West Virginia came next and most recently it was Texas Tech only earlier this same week. Now, Iowa State led No. 24 Texas by three with three minutes, 50 seconds to play.
In time, Iowa State would use an 8-0 spurt to pull away from the Longhorns and further jumble the Big 12 standings with a 10-point, 85-75 win.
“I feel like the last couple [losses] we really didn’t have the will to win,” Georges Niang said afterward. “We were giving up late leads and stuff like that, so you use that as motivation. We’re just so passionate and we really wanted this win and I think when you want it that bad you’re going to pull it out.
“We just need to play every game like that.”
Niang helped Iowa State to a two-point halftime lead, scoring 13-straight for the Cyclones — including three consecutive 3s — in a span of less than two and a half minutes. Both Niang and Monte Morris finished with identical stat lines: 24 points, six rebounds and three assists on a combined 18-of-29 from the field.
Morris scored 19 in the game’s second half.
“Those two guys are 18-for-29. When they have numbers like that, you probably finish the game really well,” Prohm said. “They made big shots. We were able to run clock the last couple of possessions and then get [the ball] in those guys’ hands.”
While offense helped Iowa State move toward its seventh Big 12 victory this season, defense clinched it. The Cyclones forced the Longhorns to miss their final five shots and Texas went 2-of-12 from the field down the stretch.
Iowa State returned center Jameel McKay to the rotation following a two-game suspension and the senior big man provided eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks off the bench to energize that defensive effort.
“He was great for us,” said Niang, who moved within three points (with 1,990) of Fred Hoiberg for third all-time at Iowa State in scoring. “He was everywhere, flying around like his hair was on fire. I couldn’t be more proud of him for him to step in and embrace his role and really just play amazing.”
The collective effort, meanwhile, helped the Cyclones to a three-way tie with Texas and Baylor in the Big 12 standings behind leaders West Virginia and Kansas as well as Oklahoma, which is one game out of first.
“The nice thing about it is we played like we’re capable of playing tonight,” Prohm said. “We scored 85 points, we held them to 41 percent defensive field goal percentage, rebounds were right there even, we got to the free throw line 25 times. That’s winning stats. Everybody was focused and playing the right way.”