Jayhawks' mettle impressive in victory at Iowa State
No one will confuse this year’s Iowa State team with a college basketball juggernaut. The Cyclones’ lack of size ultimately undermined their chances of keeping up with Kansas on the glass or stopping the Jayhawks inside Monday night in a 76-72 KU victory at ISU.
Kansas made the most of its obvious advantages to out-rebound the home team 41-24 and out-score Iowa State in the paint, 52-28. Those qualified as the most impressive numbers of the Jayhawks’ latest win in a streak of 17. But another set of digits rank right up there: 34:09. That’s how many minutes and seconds Kansas led to close its fourth road win of the season.
As coach Bill Self referenced after his No. 2-ranked team remained unblemished in Big 12 play (17-1 overall, 6-0 conference), he expected the Jayhawks’ trip to Hilton Coliseum to be their most taxing road date yet and for the game to be one of the most difficult outside of Allen Fieldhouse this season.
KU’s previous road wins came at UNLV (ranked 194th in the nation by KenPom.com), TCU (KenPom’s No. 32 team) and Oklahoma (73rd at KenPom). Based solely on those numbers, Kansas winning at Iowa State (23rd) qualifies as the team’s best victory since defeating Duke (11th) at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November.
Iowa State (11-6, 3-3) took an 8-6 lead in front of an amped-up home crowd on a layup by Naz Mitrou-Long with 15:50 left in the first half. But one of the country’s supreme guards, KU senior Frank Mason III, scored a layup to tie the game shortly after. What followed was a Cyclones team and fan base ravenous for a home win over Kansas watching in frustration as the Jayhawks never trailed again, following a Mason 3-pointer with 14:09 left in the first half.
Kansas (ranked No. 7 at KenPom) got up as many as 10 points on five occasions, and kept withstanding the Iowa State surges that reinvigorated its antagonistic supporters in the arena. In the second half, when ISU got within four with 12 minutes left, Svi Mykhailiuk drilled a 3 and Landen Lucas scored inside, while the Jayhawks got stops on the other end.
Again, with less than four minutes to go, Iowa State carved its deficit back to four. Then, in a crucial burst, Josh Jackson, Lucas and Mason each scored a basket on three straight trips down the floor.
Ever resilient, ISU still got as close as three points twice in the final 30 seconds. And Kansas got out of Ames with a win thanks to a successful press-break that set up a Lagerald Vick dunk and a much-needed Devonte’ Graham free throw with 0:12 on the clock.
The cynic in you might say the Jayhawks need to do a better job closing out games. The realist in you should remember KU didn’t allow a solid ISU team to lead on its home floor for the final 34:09 of a hotly contested game.
Give Self and his players the credit they deserve. They didn’t allow the Cyclones to regain the lead and set Hilton ablaze with energy. This is the kind of game plenty of top-25 teams could have lost. Yes, KU has its flaws (see: 18 turnovers at Iowa State, the presence of only two bigs on the roster), but there is something to be said for a team with this kind of mettle.
Game after game, Self, his staff and the players find the areas where their opponents can be exploited. And though the competition hasn’t always been taxing (KenPom ranks KU’s non-conference schedule as 87th nationally), Kansas hasn’t walked off any court with a loss since its season-opener.