SAN ANTONIO — Ashley Joens scored 33 points on Monday to set an Iowa State record for an NCAA Tournament game but it may have been unsung senior Madison Wise and a couple freshmen who saved the day.
Joens also made the clinching free throw with 3.1 seconds left to give the seventh-seeded Cyclones a 79-76 opening-round win over 10th-seeded Michigan State.
But Wise provided the Cyclones (17-10) a 13-point, 11-rebound performance off the bench as Joens dealt with some foul trouble and freshmen Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski both made a pair of free throws down the stretch.
The seventh-seeded Cyclones will play second-seeded and fourth-ranked Texas A&M in the second round of the Mercado Region on Wednesday.
“I think probably one of the harder things, we do, I do, is take (Joens) out of the game,” Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly said. “I thought the other kids did a good job, I thought Maddie Wise might have played the best game she’s ever played at Iowa State.”
The Cyclones made 8 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter and 6 of 8 in the final 1:41 to hold off the 10th-seeded Spartans, who trailed by 10 with 1:40 to play in the third quarter. That was the only time the lead reached double figures and it lasted for 13 seconds.
Ryan made two free throws and Joens one after a 3-pointer by Julia Ayrault pulled MSU within 73-71 with 1:47 to play.
Ayrault made a layup with just over a minute to go and Alyza Winston made another at 25.6 seconds, cutting it to 76-75. But Donarski made two free throws with 22.8 seconds to play and Joens rebounded Michigan State’s last miss and clinched the game.
“You hear all the stories … its tough stuff for a team with freshmen to win,” Fennelly said. “I’m like, `Well, that’s not good for us because we play a lot of freshmen.’ But our guards are good. They’re tough-minded. Emily and Lex, I thought did a great job playing a lot of minutes against a really good physical defensive team.”
Nia Clouden scored 16 points for the Spartans (15-9), Winston had 11 and Taiyier Parks nine with 11 rebounds.
“I think what makes it tough, she takes her time with the ball, she’s really patient,” Clouden said on guarding Joens. “When you’re playing one-on-one defense against her, you never know when she’s going to go up to score or if she’s going to fake. … She’s really relentless.”
Joens scored 18 points, hitting three of the Cyclones’ seven 3-pointers, to help build a 45-39 halftime lead.
Michigan State: The Spartans had nine different starting lineups this year with Clouden the only player to start every game. The injuries continued in the NCAA Tournament with Moira Joiner, who hit a tying 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, leaving the game with 3:01 left. Joiner tried to take a charge on Joens and hit the back of her head on the floor.
Iowa State: Joens had her seventh 30-point game of the season. … The Cyclones have appeared in 18 NCAA Tournaments, all under Fennelly. … Among the notable numbers for ISU this season: ending Baylor’s 61-game home winning streak and making a school-record 19 3-pointers at Texas Tech.
When the pandemic hit, Joens and her freshman sister teammate Aubrey needed to keep sharp. Among the places they worked out was in the neighbor’s barn in Iowa City, which had a small court in the basement.
There was never a problem finding competition. Older sister Courtney played at Illinois, younger sister Kelsey plays for Iowa City High School and the youngest sister, Bailey, 9, is a player.
The last time the Cyclones and Spartans met was in the 2009 Sweet 16 in Berkeley, California, when Iowa State pulled out a 69-68 win. The final basket – a banked 3-pointer – with 23 seconds left was made by Alison Lacey. Now Lacey is returning to Ames as the wife of new Iowa State men’s coach T.J. Otzelberger, who was introduced last Thursday.