Fred Hoiberg looked at his players in the huddle late in the game Feb. 15 just as Iowa State’s 18-point lead had evaporated to one.
Heads were down and faces were long. He reminded them they still had a lead.
The No. 11 Cyclones (19-5, 7-5 Big 12) eventually pulled through with a 70-64 victory against Texas Tech, even after the Red Raiders took a one-point lead in the final minutes on Feb. 15 at Hilton Coliseum.
“For us to find a way to get it, even after they took the lead, is huge for us,” Hoiberg said. “I saw some faces in the huddle when they were making that run that suggested a little bit of bad body language.
“But we pulled it together.”
Iowa State took an 18-point lead with 14:35 remaining, and all seemed right after the team had suffered a 25-point defeat at the hands of West Virginia on Feb. 10. The defense had bounced back and the offense was clicking.
And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
“When they got back in the game, we just lost our minds for a stretch there,” Hoiberg said. “We built it up to 18 by getting out and getting run-outs. Then all of a sudden we tried hitting home runs.”
The Red Raiders (13-12, 5-7) went on a 15-2 run to cut the Cyclones’ lead to just five, and that lead had become one when Hoiberg called the timeout. Before Iowa State regained its rhythm, Texas Tech took a one-point lead with 3:02 to play.
“They made a good run,” said senior guard DeAndre Kane, who flirted with a triple-double with 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. “I think we took a couple plays off when we got up 18, but they fought back. Give them credit. We were fortunate to get out of there with a win.”
When the lead finally slipped away, Iowa State buckled down. Senior forward Melvin Ejim made a basket 18 seconds after the lead had vanished to regain control and the Cyclones never looked back, finishing the game on a 9-2 run.
Freshman Matt Thomas made a layup — his only basket of the game — with just more than two minutes to play to extend the ISU lead to three. Georges Niang, who finished with 17 points, made a layup on the next possession.
With five seconds to play, Niang took a full court lob from Ejim, rose and slammed the game away.
“Was that really a dunk?” Hoiberg joked afterward. “I think he grabbed the net.”
Niang, whose athleticism is often joked about, wasn’t marking it down.
“No, my teammates aren’t going to give me credit for it,” Niang said. “So I won’t take credit for it.”
Dunk or not, the postgame mood was a far cry from the faces Hoiberg stared at in the huddle as Iowa State’s lead slipped and disappeared late.
The Cyclones, in the end, found a way to secure another Big 12 victory to add to their NCAA tournament resume with three weeks of regular season play remaining.
“That wouldn’t have been too good of a loss on our resume if we lost that one,” Niang said. “I feel like we played a good 30 minutes of basketball, but this game is 40 minutes. We had to step it up again and close the game out.”
After falling behind by one point late, Iowa State finished 4-of-5 from the field and forced Texas Tech to miss five of its final six shots.
In the end, Iowa State escaped.
“We made enough plays down the stretch to win it,” Hoiberg said. “We had to find a way to survive.”