By Blair Kerkhoff
The Kansas City Star (MCT)
---- — KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The hugs and waves to the crowd started with 10 seconds remaining, and no sooner had the buzzer sounded did Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg shake an approving fist at the Sprint Center crowd filled with Cyclones partisans.
It was an uphill struggle most of the night but Iowa State finally prevailed, topping Baylor, 74-65, in a memorable Big 12 championship game in front of a packed and partisan Cyclones crowd at the Sprint Center on Saturday night.
Iowa State trailed by eight with a little over 10 minutes remaining, but the Cyclones made 24 of their final 35 shots — after missing their first 13 attempts of the game.
Iowa State hit the big shots down the stretch and captured its second Big 12 tourney title. The trophy will go alongside the one captured by the 2000 team, led by Marcus Fizer.
Both teams are headed to the NCAA Tournament, along with five others from the Big 12. The 68-team bracket will be announced at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Iowa State had made it all the way back on Naz Long’s corner three pointer with 5:46 remaining. Then Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, who had been quiet most of the evening, popped in a three from the top of the key that gave the Cyclones a 53-50 edge.
The next few moments became a slugfest, with both teams trading huge shots and plays. Isaiah Austin scored five straight for Baylor, then Georges Niang of Methuen answered inside to give Iowa State a 59-58 lead.
The next two shots decided the game.
Baylor’s Brady Heslip hit a three, his fourth of the game, to restore the Bears’ lead, and quiet the crowd.
But Long immediately returned the favor with 2:40 to play, and that gave Iowa State the boost it needed to reach the finish line. Iowa State didn’t trail again.
Where previous opponents continued to wilt throughout the first half, Iowa State started to claw back.
Trailing 24-14, the Cyclones scored on six straight possessions. Kane hit a pull-up three, and Monte Morris sank a triple. When Georges Niang scored his second straight bucket inside, the Cyclones had closed to 29-27.
Niang found himself at the line with a chance to tie, but he missed the front end with 28.5 seconds left and Melvin Ejim was called for a foul as Kenny Chery attempted a three-pointer. Chery, an 86 percent shooter, made all three, and Baylor went to the break with a five-point lead.
The Big 12 Tournament averaged 18,999 fans per session, the third highest session average in the event’s history.
It was quite a tourney for Niang, the rugged sophomore. He came back from Friday’s horrific gash to his eye, which was played over and over by SportsCenter. He got five stitches and symbolized the Cyclones’ toughness. Hundreds of ISU fans had band-aids over their eyes as a salute to Niang.
He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.