Iowa State went ice cold from the field at the most inopportune time, and the team's best season in recent memory is over because of it.
Thanks in large part to a 2-of-17 performance from beyond the arc and a 36 percent shooting percentage from the field overall, the No. 3 Cyclones fell in an upset in the Round of 32 on Monday to No. 11 Missouri State, by a score of 69-60. This despite 31 points from Bridget Carleton and the advantage of playing in front of a rowdy home crowd at Hilton Coliseum.
What perhaps makes the poor shooting even harder to swallow is not only that it came at the worst possible time, but that it happened just two nights after everyone on the team scored a basket in the overwhelming defeat of New Mexico State. On Monday, however, it seemed as if the entire team outside of Carleton couldn't buy a basket.
"I thought (Missouri State) did a good job," said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. "Our goal was to drive the ball to the basket, but when you're 2-for-17, you're 2-for-17. You just can't win games when you're missing shots. It's a make-shot-miss-shot game and they hit some shots that were big ones at big times."
The loss ends what had been a resurgent season for Iowa State. Just last year, the team finished 14-17 in what was the team's second losing season in three years. Things were so bad that Fennelly contemplated retirement, but the coach said a turnaround led by his senior class renewed his passion for coaching.
That passion was very evident in the post game press conference, where Fennelly and seniors Bridget Carleton and Alexa Middleton fought through tears to deliver their final post game press conference.
With the 31 points, Carleton finishes her career with 2,142 career points, just eight points shy of the Iowa State all-time scoring record held by Angie Welle.
Carleton will almost certainly play at the next level and her name will someday be in the rafters at Hilton Coliseum, but she said her biggest takeaway from her time at Iowa State was the growth she had as a person.
"Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what I was," Carleton said. "What kind of player I was, what kind of person I was. I've grown a lot as a person thanks to my teammates, the coaches and this community. I'm a much better person because of Iowa State."
Middleton, meanwhile, was probably the next closest thing that Iowa State had to a consistent scorer outside of Carleton on Monday. She finished the evening with nine points, five assists and five rebounds, and was the only Cyclone outside of Carleton to hit a three point shot.
Middleton also took the opportunity postgame to reflect on her career at Iowa State. Middleton spent two seasons on the roster after transferring from the University of Tennessee, and was thankful for the sense of community the team gave her.
"You're going to miss this family that you have," Middleton said. "You're going to miss the fun times, the special moments that you have off the court, but there's a lot of frustration and disappointment that we didn't play how we wanted to play."
Carleton, Middleton and fellow senior Meredith Burkhall will now all see their careers as Cyclones come to a close, but not before Fennelly mentioned how grateful he was to the three for their contributions to the program. In Fennelly's opinion, the 2018-19 senior class got the Iowa State program back on track, and the future looks bright as a result.
However, Fennelly, who's 61 years old and has been with Iowa State since 1995, wasn't exactly committal about a return to Iowa State next season. Should he return to Iowa State next year, he'll have the luxury of working with three returning starters and a host of key reserves.
"I've been here a long time, and there will be some decisions to be made going forward," Fennelly said. "But this program is back where it needs to be because of the three seniors. I can't thank our seniors enough for restoring the Iowa State way and whatever happens moving forward, that will not change. I can promise you that."