Baylor falls to No. 16 Iowa State, 74-65
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Nobody could blame Baylor coach Scott Drew for shaking hands with Iowa State counterpart Fred Hoiberg, turning on his heel and promptly walking up the tunnel of the Sprint Center.
He had already seen a championship celebration from the losing bench. Twice.
After winning three games in three days to reach the Big 12 tournament title game, his No. 7 seed Bears finally ran out of steam. DeAndre Kane scored 17 points, Georges Niang added 13 and the No. 16 Cyclones rallied for a 74-65 victory and their first championship since 2000.
“I was really proud of our fight and our effort,” Drew said in a back room, where he could still overhear the Cyclones’ celebration on the floor. “They deserved to win.”
Kenny Chery had 16 points for Baylor (24-11), which has never won a postseason conference tournament. Brady Heslip added 14 points, and Isaiah Austin and Royce O’Neale each had 10.
The Bears were trying to become the first champion to win four games in four days. Instead, they’ll head into the NCAA tournament with plenty of momentum, a one-time bubble team that has won nine of its last 11 games — several of them in lopsided fashion.
“We’ve had ups and downs. We’ve been through it all,” Heslip said. “We’ve been through more than probably any other team in our position has been in. We wanted to win this championship bad, but that isn’t going to change how we approach the NCAA tournament.”
Naz Long and Dustin Hogue had 12 points apiece for the fourth-seeded Cyclones (26-7), while Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
The Cyclones were buoyed by a group of supporters dressed in red, eager to see whether Hoiberg — who has already restored Hilton Magic — could start bringing home trophies, too.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Iowa State coach rounded the court with his finger raised — No. 1, as in the top of the Big 12, for only the second time in school history.
“The fist pump was such an emotional feeling for me,” said Hoiberg, who dedicated the win to his beloved mentor, Johnny Orr, the former Cyclones coach who died in December.
“This one is for him,” Hoiberg said. “The fist pump was in honor of Coach, and also to thank the fans as well. I just wanted them to know how much we appreciated what they brought.”
The rim seemed like a hula-hoop to the Cyclones in a semifinal victory over No. 10 Kansas, when they shot 54 percent from the field. But it turned into a thimble in the first half against Baylor, the Cyclones missing their first 13 shots against the Bears’ 2-3 zone defense.
Baylor was especially effective against the Cyclones’ big three of Ejim, Niang and Kane, who had carried them to the finals. They combined to miss their first 10 shots.
“We were getting looks we wanted,” Ejim said, “we just weren’t converting.”
Still, the Cyclones never allowed their deficit to grow to more than 10 points, and two big baskets by Niang in the closing minutes drew Iowa State within 32-27 at the break.
Baylor, which had led for all but 97 seconds in its first three games, maintained control throughout much of the second half, but Iowa State finally pulled ahead when Ejim answered a chant of “Let’s Go Cyclones” from the sea of red with a 3 that gave them a 53-50 lead with 5:45 to go.
The game turned into a tug-of-war down the stretch, the Cyclones taking the lead, the Bears grabbing it right back. Iowa State eventually persevered, once again relying on its stars.
Ejim drained a 3-pointer to give the Cyclones a 62-58 lead with 2:45 to go, and after Heslip made two free throws for Baylor, Hogue converted a nifty reverse layup to restore the lead.
Niang’s two free throws with just over 2 minutes left gave Iowa State a 66-60 lead, and then he sealed the game with his driving layup with 36 seconds left, starting a party among Iowa State fans that had been more than a decade in the making.
“I think it was more what Iowa State did. They hit big shots, made big plays down the stretch,” Drew said. “If they don’t hit those big shots, then maybe it’s a different story. We definitely had enough energy to compete and win the game. Credit them for winning it.”