LAWRENCE, KAN. — Paying no attention to the "Beware of the Phog" warning scrolled in paint across the far end of Allen Fieldhouse, Iowa State found itself in rare territory here Saturday between the hallowed walls which few enter and leave happily.
There was no thought given to Kansas having won 39 consecutive games here. There was no lack of confidence facing a team that has celebrated more consecutive Big 12 titles (12) than Kansas coach Bill Self losses here (nine).
Iowa State had Kansas where it wanted. Then, suddenly, it didn’t.
“We played very well. It’s hard to win here, obviously,” coach Steve Prohm said. “I’d have taken my chances if you’d have said we’d be up one with three minutes to go. I thought our kids were resilient, I thought we put ourselves in position to win the game and credit to them, they made some big plays down the stretch.”
That is, after all, what Kansas has become accustomed to.
For much of the day Saturday, Iowa State avoided the patent Kansas run that it dutifully prepared for in the days leading up to this Big 12 regular season finale. But that run did eventually come, and when it did arrive in the final minutes, it was too late as it ultimately sent the Cyclones home with an 85-78 loss.
Iowa State played with Georges Niang for only 11 minutes of the first half, but his effort beforehand — 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting — combined with Jameel McKay’s 15 first-half points and seven rebounds sent it to the break down one.
Every time Kansas began to build a second-half lead, Iowa State responded. Iowa State’s biggest push came with a 13-2 run that gave it a 63-59 lead with just less than nine minutes to play and it led most of the next 3 ½ minutes.
“I thought we played really well in stretches [and] put ourselves in position up here with three minutes to go, one-point game and a big chance to win up here,” Prohm said. “We just weren’t able to finish up here.”
That’s where Iowa State found itself late, leading vaunted Kansas by one with three minutes, 13 seconds to play. Yet Iowa State’s offense went stagnant — and without a field goal for seven minutes, five seconds — as Kansas surged to an 11-0 run to take the lead it would never surrender.
“Kansas is really good at defense,” said Niang, who finished with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists. “Obviously if you’re going to something down the stretch and it’s working, someone is going to make an adjustment. I thought we still made adjustments and ran other plays. I think the thing is, shots we could have made, we missed. That’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.”
For Iowa State, it’s how things have crumbled often in recent losses.
The Cyclones, who will face 3-seeded Oklahoma next Thursday as the 6-seed to kickstart Big 12 postseason play, have now led in the final minutes in seven of their last eight Big 12 losses, including this season finale.
“We just weren’t able to finish the game,” Prohm reiterated.
That will become a prime focus in the days ahead for this Iowa State bunch, one that despite this loss, heads to the postseason confident.
“I think we’re playing well. I think these guys are in a good place,” Prohm said. “Obviously we lost, we all hate losing, but I think we’re in a good place.”
“[This loss is] not going to take anything away from what this team can do in the future,” Niang added. “Now you have a one-game season for the rest of the year. That’s how we have to take it and build on and work from there.”