Saturday night in Stillwater was a story Charles Dickens could've appreciated. It was a tale of two games.
The first 20 minutes was the best of halves for the Cyclones. The second 20 minutes was the worst of halves.
After holding Oklahoma State to a season-low 17 points in the first half at venerable Iba-Gallagher Arena, Iowa State succumbed to a fatal combination of solid defense and cold shooting in the second half of a 62-50 loss.
It was the 14th consecutive loss in the city of Stillwater for the Cyclones, but there were some signs early in the game which led one to believe that this might not be the same old song and dance as before. Iowa State jumped out to a quick lead because of a solid effort on the offensive glass and an equally solid defensive effort against the two leading scorers for Oklahoma State, Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry.
The Cyclones picked up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, and they had a dominant 23-14 rebound advantage at halftime. While cleaning the boards, they held the two players who combined for 39.8 points a game to a paltry four points.
"Our guys followed the plan about as well as we could expect in the first half," Iowa State Coach Greg McDermott said. "We needed to control the tempo to keep the crowd out of the game."
The only thing keeping Oklahoma State in the game was the play of sophomore Terrel Harris, who led the Cowboy attack in first half with 11 points.
"We had to give up something," McDermott said, "and we knew that Harris could shoot it. He made us pay for being a little bit late."
Even though the Cyclones were holding the Cowboys at bay, they were also dealing with problems of their own. Jiri Hubalek picked up a second foul with 9:51 left in the half, and then Mike Taylor picked up his third foul with a charge through the lane with 8:07 left in the half. Hubalek didn't return until there were three seconds left in the half, and Taylor didn't play the rest of the half.
"When Hubalek and Taylor got in foul trouble we really had to gear it down," McDermott said. "I hate to play that way, but I also hate to lose."
The pace of the game slowed to a snail's pace, and the Cyclones were able to keep the crowd out of the game with their patient attack. They kept the Cowboys from scoring the last 4:01 of the first half, and a jumper by Wesley Johnson gave the Cyclones a 23-17 halftime advantage.
Oklahoma State shot 28.6% for the first half, while Iowa State didn't shoot much better at 33.3%.
The second half began with Taylor on the bench with his three fouls. McDermott's strategy was to try and protect him until the first media timeout.
"I tried to roll the dice and protect Taylor and started the second half thinking that if we could get to the first TV timeout with the lead or tied that we would be okay," McDermott said. "We didn't want him to pick up his fourth foul right away. Obviously that strategy did not work."
By the time Taylor came back into the game three minutes into the second half the halftime lead had evaporated and the momentum swing was well underway.
"Two of their first three baskets in the second half were a result of offensive rebounds and we turned it over two of our first three possessions," McDermott said.
The Cowboys went on to score the first 12 points of the half and eventually stretched the run to a 23-7 advantage and a 40-30 lead with just over 11 minutes left when Harris nailed a three-pointer. The second half flurry was fueled by torrid shooting (11-15 in the first nine minutes of the half compared to 3-12 for the Cyclones), which allowed the crowd of 12,354 to warm from a simmer to a full boil.
After a Cyclone timeout, Taylor tried to revive the team with a pair of three-pointers in a 26-second span to cut the lead to 40-36. But the Cyclones never got any closer. Oklahoma State scored the next eight points over a span of five minutes and the Cowboys led 48-36 with five minutes left in the game. The teams gave each other 14 points from there to achieve the final score.
Iowa State couldn't improve on their woeful shooting as they shot 31% in the second half and 32.3% for the game, while Oklahoma State shot 59.3% in the second half and 45.8% for the game.
Taylor finished the game with a team-high 13 points while Dodie Dunson tacked on an additional 11 points. They were the only two Cyclones to score in double figures. Wesley Johnson finished with 10 rebounds and nine points, including seven caroms off the offensive glass. Rashon Clark added nine boards to compliment his eight points.
Harris led the Cowboys with 21 points because of a 7-9 effort from the field, including 3-4 from behind the arc. Boggan and Curry made amends for their lack of scoring in the first half to end the game with 17 and 14 points, respectively.
The Cyclones dropped to a record of 11-9 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12, while the Cowboys improved to 18-3 and 4-2 in the conference.