Iowa State didn't have to go to overtime to beat Kansas State in the first game of the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at Sprint Center, but that game was just as intense as the one that followed it — an OT thriller between Kansas and Oklahoma State.
Now that both the Cyclones (24-7) and Jayhawks (24-8) have lived up to the old March motto of "survive and advance," they will play each other for the third time this season Friday night at Sprint Center for a chance to advance to the Big 12 title game.
ISU and KU haven't played each other in six weeks. In the first meeting, on Jan. 13, Kansas won, 77-70, at Iowa State.
The rematch came 16 days later in Lawrence. Again, Kansas prevailed. This time, 92-81, at Allen Fieldhouse.
For the end of this trilogy, we've got a neutral site, in Kansas City, Mo. Sprint Center usually can't be called neutral the way Kansas fans pack it out, but Iowa State might be the one school this season that can come close to matching the crowd energy of the Jayhawks' fan base.
ISU always travels well for the conference tournament, even if the faithful know their Cyclones have little chance of winning the event. This year, ISU (ranked No. 16 entering the postseason) could be cutting down nets Saturday night. Even if the Cyclones have to go through No. 10 Kansas to do it.
As a bit of a refresher course on Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones, here is what they've been up to lately.
6-6, 220, sr. forward
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 15 points, 5/15 FGs, 2/5 3s, 3/3 FTs, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 3 steals, 5 fouls.
— Jan. 29 at KU: 18 points, 7/13 FGs, 1/2 3s, 3/4 FTs, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers and 4 fouls in 29 minutes.
The Big 12's player of the year had a slow start in the quarterfinals against K-State. Slow by his standards at least. And Ejim still scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds after picking up some hardware.
Said Hoiberg of Ejim's outing, after ISU advanced with a 91-85 win: "Melvin, to go out there, and he had five offensive rebounds in the first half, did a good job I thought. He missed a couple of easy ones there in the first. He could have had a 30‑point game, but then made those really tough finishes around the basket, down the stretch. He hit some big free throws for us and again really helped us do the job on the glass."
He averages 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and has hit 36 of 109 3's in Hoiberg's free-wheeling offense.
6-4, 200, sr. guard
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 21 points, 6/13 FGs, 1/3 3s, 8/16 FTs, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 steals.
— Jan. 29 at KU: 22 points, 8/14 FGs, 2/4 3s, 4/6 FTs, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover in 34 minutes.
Kane scored the first basket of the game against Kansas State, then didn't make much noise offensively for a long time.
The All-Big 12 first team point guard scored 11 points and had 2 assists before fouling out. Still, ISU handled the final minutes just fine without him.
Kane averages 16.9 points, 6.7 boards and 5.8 assists. He has shot a team-leading 214 free throws, but only converts them at 63.6% of the time.
6-7, 240, so. forward
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 11 points, 4/20 FGs, 0/9 FTs, 3/4 FTs, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers.
— Jan. 29 at KU: 24 points, 10/17 FGs, 3/7 3s, 1/2 FTs, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 turnovers, 1 block in 38 minutes.
When Kane left the floor against K-State, Niang became ISU's go-to play-maker.
After the Wildcats tied the game at 76 with less than four minutes left, Niang hit a jumper, found Naz Long for a 3, hit Ejim for a layup, scored in the paint, grabbed a defensive board and fed Long for an assist.
The versatile forward finished with 18 points, seven boards and four helpers.
"You look at what Georges did at the end," Hoiberg said, "those last couple of minutes he was in there, we gave the ball to him and he just went out there made unbelievable basketball plays."
Niang averages 16.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and also likes to fire from deep — connecting on 43 of 137 3-ponters this season (just 31.4%).
6-6, 215, jr. forward
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 13 points, 3/10 FGs, 0/1 3s, 7/8 FTs, 9 rebounds (6 offensive).
— Jan. 29 at KU: 7 points, 2/5 FGs, 2/3 3s, 1/2 FTs, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers in 31 minutes.
This guy might be the most impressive rebounder in the country. Hogue is only 6-foot-6 but always seems to come up with the ball once it bounces off the rim. Oh, you're bigger than him? Doesn't matter. He's gonna get it.
Hogue joined Ejim in the double-double department vs. K-State, going for 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"Dustin Hogue, I thought, did everything today," his coach said. "He's always been a guy that's done the dirty work for this team, all throughout the year. He doesn't get the credit he deserves today, not only on the defensive end and rebounding, which he always does, but made some huge plays for us on offense."
Hogue hit 6 of his 8 shots Thursday. On the season, he averages 10.6 points and 8.6 boards.
6-2, 170, fr. guard
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 7 points, 1/5 FGs, 1/4 3s, 0/1 FTs, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 4 steals.
— Jan. 29 at KU: 4 points, 1/4 FGs, 0/2 3s, 2/2 FTs, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 0 turnovers in 35 minutes.
Morris consistently put teammates in position to make something happen against Kansas State, and he ended up dealing 10 assists, to go with five points and three steals.
"I thought he was great," Hoiberg told the media after the game. "He always does the right thing defensively, got some key deflections. We were having trouble getting stops unless we got a turnover and I thought he did a really good job of staying tight with (Will) Spradling. It's not an easy matchup. He moves so much and Monte, I thought, did a great job chasing him all over the floor. And 10 assists and one turnover, it's hard when you have an 8‑to‑1 assist‑to‑turnover ratio to increase that in a game. But to go out there and do that as a freshman in his first Big 12 tournament tells you all you need to know about that kid. He loves the big stage. He won back-to-back state championships in Michigan. He came out and played as poised a game as I think you can have as a freshman."
Morris averages 6.0 points this season, and has passed out 120 assists, compared to 21 turnovers, in 31 games.
6-4, 205, so. guard
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 0 points, 0/2 FGs, 0/2 3s, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 16 minutes.
— Jan. 29 at KU: 0 points, 0/3 FGs, 0/2 3s, 1 turnover in 8 minutes.
Long has developed into ISU's best 3-point shooter, as he proved at the end of regulation against Oklahoma State last week, setting up an ISU overtime victory.
He drilled 2 of 3 from deep against K-State, and finished with 14 points.
On the year, Long has hit 53 3-pointers on 135 attempts (39.3%).
6-3, 200, fr. guard
— Stats Jan. 13, vs. KU: 3 points, 1/5 FGs, 1/4 3s, 0/1 FTs, 2 rebounds, one assist, 3 blocks, 1 steal.
— Jan. 29 at KU: 6 points, 2/6 FGs, 2/6 3s, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 turnover and 2 blocks in 25 minutes.
A steady guard off the bench, Thomas averages 6.1 points, has made 43 of 127 3-ponters and has only turned the ball over 15 times all season.
He went scoreless against K-State in 10 minutes of action.