For the fifth time this season and the for the third time in the state of Iowa, the No. 1 team in the country lost.
This time it was Oklahoma, who was the latest victim of Hilton Magic, falling to No. 19 Iowa State in Ames, 82-77, on Monday night. Georges Niang led the way for the Cyclones with 22 points, but it was Monté Morris burying a jumper with 20 seconds left to break a 75-all and give the Cyclones a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. On the ensuing possession, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield missed a contested layup and Isaiah Cousins bricked a decent look at a three after the rebound bounced into his hands.
The Cyclones would hit the free throws they needed to ice what is a critically important win.
Iowa State entered the night having lost three of their first five games in Big 12 play, including allowing Baylor to run up in Hilton Coliseum and get a win. In a conference that is as strong as the Big 12 is this season, losing home games is the kind of thing that will not only end your chances of winning the league’s regular season title but could end up falling out of the top four.
Think about it like this: Entering Monday, there was a four-way tie for first place in the Big 12 between Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia. Had the Cyclones lost this game, they would have fallen three games off that pace having already lost twice in what is supposed to be one of the best home court environments in the country.
But this was about more than just their spot in the standings.
‘Fred Hoiberg never would’ve started the Big 12 season 2-4. If Steve Prohm can’t win with these guys, how will he ever win here?’ Throw in a couple of cuss words, and it’s not hard to imagine that very conversation happening in every sports bar in Ames. It’s never easy being the guy tasked with replacing “The Guy”, so this win undoubtedly took a whole lot of pressure off of this team and their coach, at least for the time being.
“This was huge for us,” Niang said. “A lot of people doubted us and we just wanted to show everybody we were real. We did that today.”
If there is a concern here for the Cyclones, it’s that they essentially played the entire game without a bench. Deonte Burton played a few minutes and Jordan Ashton saw some time, but for the most part, Prohm rode his starters hard.
And they rewarded him.
“Everyone of them made big plays all night,” Prohm said. “Our guys are battle tested and had a lot of adversity the last week or two. I’m really proud of them.”
So yes, this was a big win for Iowa State.
And while it’s another close road loss against a top five team in the league, it’s not all negative for the Sooners. Buddy Hield did Buddy Hield things — he finished with 27 points and had a flurry of second half threes that twice erased big Iowa State leads — but the good news was that Isaiah Cousins finally woke up. Over his last six games, Cousins had been shooting 25.0 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from three while averaging just 8.8 points. On Monday, he scored 24 points and shot 10-for-15 from the floor, only missing one of his five threes, although that one came with Oklahoma down two points and just 10 seconds left on the clock.