Another Near-Miss

<B>AMES, IA --</B> Close once again, and yet so far. That was the sentiment shared by the Iowa State men Wednesday night after a 71-66 defeat at the hands of #2 Kansas in Hilton Coliseum.

The Cyclones put themselves in position for a huge upset of the Jayhawks, but the same costly mistakes that have cost them in recent weeks told the tale once again. Lackluster free-throw shooting down the stretch and an 8-0 run by Kansas in the closing minutes carried KU to a rare victory in Ames.

"I thought my kids played their hearts out and as hard as they could," said Iowa State head coach Wayne Morgan. "We just didn't have enough to get past Kansas. Everyone that played for us gave everything they had. Maybe we didn't make every shot and every free throw, but in terms of effort, everyone that played left what they had on the court."

ISU managed to overcome a lot of adversity just to find itself in position for a victory. KU was ready to pull away midway through the second half, opening a 52-44 advantage with 11:36 to play. Aaron Miles capped the flurry with a 3-pointer.

But 10 unanswered points by the Cyclones would put Curtis Stinson and company back in business. Coming out of a media timeout, the sophomore hit a pair of free throws to cap the run and give ISU a 54-52 lead with 7:44 remaining.

Any sort of momentum was short-lived, however. Keith Langford hit a pair of buckets in an 8-0 run that put the Jayhawks back up by six points.

"When we took the lead on Stinson's free throws, you have to give them a lot of credit because they went on an 8-0 run and made some tough plays," Morgan said. "They can score so many plays because they're number one in the country (in the RPI). They have a lot of weapons and their bunch is solid. It's terrific to have those weapons at your disposal."

Morgan's team managed to hang within striking distance in the waning moments, but missed free throws would help lead to its downfall. The Cyclones missed six straight shots from the charity stripe in a three-minute stretch. Damion Staple and Will Blalock each missed a pair of shots at one time.

Of course, Keith Langford's big plays throughout the game and Wayne Simien's clutch shots down the stretch didn't help matters. Langford hit on 7-of-11 shots from the field in scoring 18 points. In his first game back from an injury, Simien tallied 13 points and nine rebounds. Nine of his points came in the second half.

"They're really senior-oriented, so they're really smart and slowed the tempo down," said Blalock. "Even though we tried to press, they broke the press, slowed it down, and ran their offense. They had offensive poise and got easy baskets from Langford that killed us."

Stinson experienced a rollercoaster ride to lead the team in scoring with 18 points, but also missed 14 of his 20 shots and committed a game-high five turnovers. After opening the game with 10 first-half points, Jared Homan managed only a pair of free throws in the final 20 minutes.

"I think they pushed him out and some of the shots he took were pretty close," Morgan said of Homan. "There were other times that we really drove the ball hard to the basket. Those opportunities should have garnered us other opportunities that never manifested."

While KU got some big buckets from role players throughout the game, Cyclone Damion Staple gave his team a lift by scoring nine points and grabbing three rebounds. However, foul trouble would ultimately lead to Staple's demise. The senior fouled out with 3:14 to play and was limited to 26 minutes in a starting role.

"I thought Damion Staple was terrific, especially in the second half," Morgan said. "It's unfortunate he got into the foul trouble, because he was really having a terrific game."

But even with some positives to build on, yet another loss in Big 12 play was difficult to stomach. ISU, which travels to Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon, is faced with the prospect of opening the conference slate 0-3.

"All we can do is learn from it," said Cyclone Anthony Davis. "Playing against Kansas is just experience for us; we're going to learn from this."

Added Morgan, "I don't think we're far away. My kids are in a lot of pain and their heads are down. But my message to them was if we can get a little bit better and concentrate a little bit more, we will get to the point where we will start to win game after game. But we don't have a big margin for error."

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