TULSA, Okla. — March Madness is usually a place of magic, of fantastic finishes and of Cinderella stories. it is the best three-week stretch of the season for many college sports fans.
For Iowa State Friday night, it went from a dream to a nightmare.
An up and down first half, followed by a second half marked by mistakes and near-misses, sent Iowa State packing to a 14-loss Ohio State team that many expected the Cyclones to beat.
It was a bitter end for Iowa State fans, but likely a fitting end to a season filled with so many peaks and valleys.
I wish all fans got to be in the locker room following a season ending loss. The tears are real. These guys care. Just adds perspective. Lots of emotion tonight with the #Cyclones. pic.twitter.com/FXxz1F0eLm— Chris Williams (@ChrisMWilliams) March 23, 2019
Ohio State ran onto the floor, celebrating a Sunday tip time with a chance to make the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes' fans stood and roared with happiness, dreaming of a trip to Kansas City that was now one step closer.
Iowa State? Headed home, with three seniors ending their collegiate careers and with a team meeting on Monday before a NCAA-mandated week-long break.
Oh boy, does March Madness goes both ways.
It was clear from the moment the locker room opened: this one hurt more than any of Iowa State's 12 losses.
Zoran Talley Jr. was telling his teammates he loved them while ruminating on his college career ending. Nick Weiler-Babb hugged his teammates after being interviewed. Assistant coaches milled about, consoling their downtrodden players.
Talen Horton-Tucker was emotional postgame. Through tears, he said: "I played terrible. I haven’t been playing good these last few games. I’ve probably been down on myself a lot. But everybody falls. ... It’s just bad, man."— Alex Halsted (@AlexHalsted) March 23, 2019
The Cyclones were stunned.
But they knew where things went wrong against the Buckeyes.
"They just dictated pace the whole game, really," said freshman guard Tyrese Haliburton.
Ohio State spent much of the second half feeding big man Kaleb Wesson, who found success down low and made it difficult for the Cyclones to get the stops they needed as the game wound down.
Wesson finished with 21 points and 12 boards. Redshirt senior guard Marial Shayok's game-high 23 points weren't enough.
Sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton said the Buckeyes knew what was coming from Iowa State.
"They scouted us well, they ran us off the line," Wigginton said. "They came in and had a gameplan for us, and it worked."
Freshman guard Talen Horton-Tucker mentioned he wanted to send the send the seniors out on the right note.
"They sent us out right."
Reflection will happen in Ames once the pain subsides for the Cyclones' coaches, players and fans.
But what happens after that?
Iowa State loses Shayok and Weiler-Babb — two massive contributors this season — and another veteran in Talley. Wigginton and Horton-Tucker have heavily featured in NBA Draft chatter — Horton-Tucker often as a first-rounder — and Haliburton has worked his way onto the fringes of the conversation.
And then there's sudden coaching speculation.
With the Alabama job — Prohm's alma mater — set to open up following a buyout with Avery Johnson, Prohm's name was mentioned by multiple outlets as a possible leading candidate.
Prohm did his best to quash the rumors after the game Friday night.
"There's nothing to say, man," Prohm said. "I want to be the best coach at Iowa State. That's it.
"I love Ames. There is no story. I'm trying to be the best coach at Iowa State and see if I can be here for a long, long time. That's it."
Denial aside, his name might still pop up in speculation until a coach is hired, and with Ames legend Fred Hoiberg looking more and more likely to become Nebraska's head coach, Cyclone fans cast a frustrated tone after the loss.
If all goes well for Iowa State, another successful year could be at hand. But Friday night, that was the furthest thing from the minds of the players.
A teary-eyed Talen Horton-Tucker and Lindell Wigginton both said they hadn't thought about their futures.
"I can't even think about that right now," Horton-Tucker said.
Obviously, this loss is raw. The Cyclones will probably take a while to heal. But tough decisions will have to be made before they know it.
Meanwhile, in the other locker room at the BOK Center, the Buckeyes were all smiles.
After all, their tournament dreams are still alive.