How does a team offer an encore to taking down intra-state arch-enemy eighth-ranked Kansas in the Octagon of Doom earlier in the week? That's easy...by taking down twelfth-ranked Iowa State five days later. In a game where K-State was down by as many as 14 in the first half, and the Cyclones seemed to be able to keep the Wildcats at arms' length through most of the second half, the trio of Nigel Johnson, Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu keyed the team in the final minutes, eventually coming up with big plays to pip the visitors at the finish line, 70-69.
As we saw in the Kansas game, it was the role players from the bench combined with seniors Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams that drug the team back into the fold. Williams and Gipson provided the leadership, and the others provided the spark, the execution, and the consistency to get out in front and finish there.
Multiple stories surround this particular contest. First, the narrative about K-State's court storming on Monday hasn't completely gone away, and was further pushed by the announcement prior to the game that not only would court storming be banned moving forward, but students going onto the court after the game would be prosecuted (presumably for trespassing), and anyone talking about storming would be removed from the facility. Talk about going from fun to police state in the course of a week. You know, a simple "KNOCK IT OFF" would have probably sufficed.
Second, it was Senior Day. Nino Williams, Thomas Gipson and Shawn Meyer were all honored with their families prior to the game. Good on these kids - they're all four-year players at Kansas State (Nino actually five), and we should be proud to say they've been a part of this team and part of the #EMAW family.
Third, the Big 12 implications. While Iowa State made their bed to a certain extent by losing to Baylor earlier in the week, winning against the Wildcats was absolutely imperative for the Cyclones to have any outside shot at a league championship. And how would K-State respond to the win over KU? Would we see some build, or would it be back to the on-again/off-again inconsistency?
Ultimately, K-State came out with energy, but some untimely turnovers combined with lights-out three-point shooting from Iowa State allowed the Cyclones to stretch to a comfortable lead in the first half. Only 10-0 and 12-2 runs by the Wildcats kept it close, and the home team went into the locker room at half down 7, 40-33.
The second half started out with more of the same - turnovers by K-State led to Iowa State runouts, and it was a 12-point game at 60-48 with ten minutes left. From that point in - Gip dunked one. Nigel hit a jumper. Justin hit a three. Wes made a layup, then knocked down a three. Nigel made another layup. Edwards made a jumper, then hit an acrobatic left-hander layup scoop to tie the game.
Knowing the Cyclones needed a bucket, Georges Niang (who had been absolutely destroying us, by the way) stepped up to take aim from behind the arc. Wes slapped it out of the air; Nino jumped up and grabbed it, and tossed an outlet pass back to Wes before he came back down to earth. Wes took it in for the layup and drew a foul in the process. K-State led by two, 68-66.
Iowa State brought the ball down, and Monte Morris drove down the lane, threw a high-arcing attempt off the glass...and it went in, with Gip sending him to the floor in the process for the and-1. Morris hit the FT; Iowa State back on top 69-68.
Coming back the other way, Justin Edwards drove the lane a little out of control, put up a poor shot, and the ball came bounding off. Iowa State's Naz Long comes up with it and calls timeout with just 18 seconds left. Things didn't just look bleak - they were bleak. Georges Niang - Iowa State's best player (and a legitimated Big 12 POY candidate) took the ball out of bounds.
Wes with the steal, dunk, and eventually the game winner. ISU did get a shot off in the final seconds that went long, and K-State knocks off their second top-15 team in less than a week. (h/t Vinnyviner for the graphic)
That puts K-State at 15-15 on the season, 8-9 in Big 12 play. After KU
lucked out beat yeah, lucked out against Texas in Lawrence today, Iowa State is now a game and a half back from the conference lead.
The final story of the day? With the prohibition of court storming by K-State brass (and frankly, there was no business with students storming today anyway), how was a team and its fans to celebrate?
BY THE PLAYERS GOING INTO THE STANDS TO HANG WITH THE STUDENT SECTION.
ON SENIOR DAY.
AFTER A WIN AGAINST A TOP-15 TEAM.
Probably the biggest stat of the game - K-State's bench...the #BenchMob on Twitter...outscored Iowa State's bench by 34 points, 37-3.
K-State tallied 4 blocked shots on the game - all by Wesley Iwundu. One of the team's best performances of the season.
The Wildcats closed out the final 10 minutes on a 22-9 run, going from a 12-point deficit at 60-48, to take the one-point victory.
K-State Player(s) Of The Game: Nigel Johnson and Wesley Iwundu
Wes's adventure in the second half was well chronicled above, being responsible for defense on the best player for Iowa State as well as coming up with four big buckets in the final 10 minutes, including the final steal and flush to put the Cats ahead for good. Wes finished with 11 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 HUGE steal, and 4 blocked shots in 22 minutes of court time.
Nigel Johnson again came off the bench in favor of Jevon Thomas. JT did some good things, but he had a handful of boneheaded plays, and is such a liability offensively...but not Nigel. Johnson played a team-high 34 minutes in the game, led the team in scoring with 17 points on 7-13 shooting, had a career-high 9 (NINE!) rebounds, and 4 assists to 3 turnovers with a steal to boot. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a point guard to move forward with.
Other Player Notes
Senior Nino Williams had a bit of an off-night, and turned an ankle in the first half as well. He still fought through it on Senior Night, and finished with 6 points, 4 boards and 3 assists.
Fellow Senior Thomas Gipson continued his solid heart-based battle on the floor, finishing with 8 points, 9 boards, and an assist and a steal.
Justin Edwards also played big tonight, coming up with a K-State career high 16 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and one rebound.
Time after time, the group of Nigel, Wes, Edwards, Nino and Gip came up big in big moments, and were the heart and soul behind the victory.
Iowa State's Georges Niang was absolutely stroking it from outside tonight, finishing with a game-high 21 points on 5-7 3PFG, and picked up 4 boards and 2 assists. He turned the ball over 5 times, none larger than the last to Iwundu. Jameel McKay went for a double-double, with 13 points, 10 rebounds.
1. Home Sweet Home.
That's three-straight home wins against ranked teams. And that's back-to-back wins over top-15 teams at home for the second time...ever. K-State might play zombieball outside of Manhattan, but dang...it's tough to win in the Octagon of Doom.
2. Where are we at?
But, of course it would. The narrative started almost immediately after the game - Is K-State playing their way back onto the bubble? Well, let's look at the resume:
- 5 Top-15 RPI wins
- 7 Top-30 RPI wins
- 4 Sub-100 RPI losses (i.e. "bad" losses)
- 1-9 true road record
- 15 losses, 15-15 record
- 3-7 in last 10, including losses at TCU and at TTU, but wins against OU, KU, ISU
"We're the best 15-15 team in the country. You're happy, but you're sad because it easily could have been much different." - Bruce Weber, postgame
First of all, thanks, Captain Obvious.
Are we in? The NCAA Tournament has NEVER featured a team with 15 losses as an at-large selection. Unless we win the Big 12 tourney, we'll be sitting with 16 losses. Heck, I think we need to win in Austin in our final regular season game to make the NIT, let alone the NCAA tourney. But one thing can't be denied, this is absolutely the most interesting resume to be presented at the end of the season, I'd argue ever. How one team, in the same season, can be SO GOOD, and SO BAD, is just mind-boggling. The good half ranks up with the elite teams in the country. The bad half is a team that should spend their late March practicing for next year, not playing in post-season tournaments.
One thing is for certain - we'll find out. And if we can pick up a win against Texas, we'll have a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament.
3. Senior Day was successful.
It's great for your seniors to go out on a win. It's a total other to have a team effort against a ranked team for the win as your last memory in the Octagon of Doom.
"I'm going to miss playin on the best court in front of the best fans in the nation it's been the best years of my life! Wildcat Forever! - Nino Williams, postgame via Twitter
"#OOD is forever my home! Thanks for the best four years a player could ask for! #EMAW4LIFE" - Thomas Gipson, postgame via Twitter
A week from today, K-State travels to the Drum in Austin to take on a Texas Longhorns squad with potentially 6th place in the Big 12 hanging in the balance. 1st thru 6th place do not play in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.