AMES, Iowa (AP) With just 17 minutes left, Iowa State star Georges Niang was whistled for what would’ve been his fourth foul.
The officials quickly reversed the call – a decision that likely saved the Cyclones.
Matt Thomas scored a career-high 22 points, Jameel McKay had 19 points with 14 rebounds and four blocks and 13th-ranked Iowa State held off Texas Tech 76-69 on Wednesday for its first Big 12 win.
Georges Niang scored all of his 14 points in the second half for the Cyclones (12-2, 1-1 Big 12). They nearly blew an 18-point first-half lead before a crucial late flourish put away the Red Raiders.
“Georges is obviously a huge, huge key to our team. We need him on the floor,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.
The Cyclones needed Thomas too.
He gave Iowa State a much-needed cushion with a step-back 3 with 1:33 left. Monte Morris followed with an alley-oop pass to Abdel Nader to put Iowa State ahead 74-65 with 1:07 left.
Justin Gray scored 14 points for the Red Raiders (11-2, 1-1). They were playing their first true road game.
“We struggled in the first half…but we showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness,” Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said.
Texas Tech was brilliant to start the second half though, chopping a 10-point deficit to 54-52 after the Cyclones opened 3 of 16 from the field.
Thomas and Niang helped Iowa State keep Tech at bay with crucial 3s, with Niang giving the Cyclones a 65-60 lead with 4:35 left.
“We just weren’t getting consistent stops until late in the game,” Thomas said. “We just have to grind it, show grit.”
When Niang went to the bench with two fouls after just 2 minutes, Tech’s chances for an upset seemed to rise.
Niang’s teammates picked him up, putting the Red Raiders in a huge early hole.
Iowa State ripped off 11 straight points midway through the first half, jumping ahead 31-13 by pounding Texas Tech in the paint. The Red Raiders responded with a 10-0 run, forcing Niang back in. He promptly picked up his third foul on a charge, but the Cyclones were able to stay ahead 40-30.
Texas Tech got within a possession on a few occasions, but Niang’s strong second half was too much to overcome.
“We gave ourselves a chance, just couldn’t pull it out,” Smith said.
Iowa State: Niang entered play as the only player in the nation with at least 1,700 career points, 550 rebounds and 325 assists. He also racked up his 23rd straight double-digit scoring game after a scoreless first half..The Cyclones came into the game averaging 14.1 fouls per game, the fewest in the nation. They were called for 15.
Texas Tech: The loss knocked coach Tubby Smith back below .500 at Tech. He’s 38-39. … Toddrick Gotcher had 12 points and eight assists, and Norense Odiase had 11 points…
Thomas has excelled since replacing the injured Naz Mitrou-Long in the starting lineup, and his crucial late 3 showed how much his confidence has risen. Thomas shook off the oncoming defender and found the space needed for an open look. “I’m finding my rhythm,” Thomas said. Thomas is averaging nearly 13 points a game since entering the starting lineup.
Despite losing its first league game, Texas Tech showed it might be a handful in the league this season. The Red Raiders shot 43 percent despite hitting just 2 of 15 3s. “We didn’t panic, and that looks good going forward,” Gotcher said.
Iowa State hosts Baylor on Saturday.
Texas Tech plays at No. 1 Kansas on Saturday.