Tonight in Ames, IA was college basketball at its finest.
A Friday night game in prime time between two intrastate rivals: Iowa and Iowa State.
It has been quite some time since both teams played each other while ranked in the Top 25. In fact, you’d have to go back to 1987 the last time they met both as Top 25 teams. High-level basketball is back in the state of Iowa, and that’s a good thing. Fran McCaffery and Fred Hoiberg have their respective programs trending upward in a big way.
Tonight was the Cyclones night as they knocked of Iowa, 85-82. Iowa ostensibly played their best half of basketball this season in the first half as they jumped out to a 45-38 lead, but coming away with a win in Hilton Coliseum tonight was going to be a difficult task. Georges Niang made sure of that.
Niang had a career-high 24 points, including the game-winner in the final minute. He shot 8-15 FG and 8-10 FT, along with dishing out five assists. There aren’t many 6-foot-7 forwards who have as dynamic of a game as Niang possesses.
Hilton Magic was sure to have an effect on the game tonight in favor of the Cyclones in some form, and that happened late in regulation. With the Cyclones clinging to an 83-82 lead following a baseline drive by Niang, Iowa guard Mike Gesell drove the lane and was fouled. Whether the sophomore guard was rattled by the crowd while standing at the free throw line will never be known, but Hilton was rocking. For his career, Gesell entered the game as an 80% FT shooter — he missed both.
After Iowa State got to within two points at 51-49 early in the second half on a DeAndre Kane layup, Iowa responded by extending their lead back to seven on an Anthony Clemmons jumper, which made it 58-51. This game had the feeling from the beginning, however, that it would go down into the final minute. And it did, but it looked like it was Iowa’s game to win.
The Hawkeyes led 82-77 with 1:29 remaining, but Iowa State ended the game on an 8-0 run. Four missed free throws during this final stretch — the two misses by Gesell, in particular — ultimately did Iowa in. Despite the loss, the effort of Iowa’s Aaron White cannot go unnoticed as the junior forward had 25 points and 17 rebounds — two off of tying his career high in points, and setting a career high in rebounds.
Both Iowa and Iowa State haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in the same season since 2004-05. Based on the play of both teams in the early going, along with tonight, it’s safe to say both will be dancing come March.