AMES — As fifth-year guard Gabe Kalscheur curled around a screen in the final minute of Tuesday night’s top-15 matchup between Kansas State and Iowa State, he was trailed by sophomore guard Cam Carter.
Kalscheur, who had already scored 17 points and made six of his 10 shot attempts for the Cyclones, stepped just inside the 3-point arc and rose for a mid-range jumper, fading laterally as he took the shot. With senior center Abayomi Iyiola staying under a screen from Iowa State center Osun Osunniyi, it was on Carter to catch up for a contest on Kalscheur’s shot, which fell through the net to give the Cyclones a 75-71 advantage with 45 seconds remaining.
“They just knocked down tough shots at the right time for them,” said senior forward Keyontae Johnson, on a night where the Cyclones shot 57.1 percent from the floor. “They ran plays and they knocked it down and played with big confidence. You’ve gotta give credit to them. They are some good players, too. So, I feel like they executed their plays and they knew who to go to at the right time.”
After Kalscheur’s jumper fell and K-State head coach Jerome Tang drew up a baseline bucket for Johnson, senior guard Markquis Nowell drove to the rim with the Wildcats trailing 76-73 and threw up a right-handed runner that clanged off the rim and into the hands of Iowa State guard Tamin Lipsey.
“I saw there was no help side (defense) and I knew we were in the double bonus,” Nowell explained of his decision to attack the rim, leading to a rare miss on a night where both teams shot above 50 percent. “It didn’t fall my way and I’ll look at the film and see what other options I had.”
The Cyclones won a late-game free throw shooting contest to put the finishing touches on an 80-76 win over the fifth-ranked Wildcats.
“I’m proud of our guys for how we responded and how we played with poise at the right time,” said Tang following Kansas State’s second loss in Big 12 play. “I always say that big-time players have to make big-time plays in big-time moments, and I thought the young men at Iowa State did that.”
Coming into Tuesday night, Iowa State’s defense ranked seventh in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. The Cyclones, allowing the eighth-fewest points per game in the nation, saw Kansas State shoot 52.1 percent from the floor.
“We didn’t let their runs get us out of character,” Tang said. Twice in the second half, Iowa State ballooned its lead to 10 points and twice the Wildcats responded with big shots from Ish Massoud and Nowell.
At the half, Tang’s bunch led by two points despite Nowell and Johnson converting on just four of their first 13 shot attempts. In the second half, even with an increase in production and a 56.5 percent shooting percentage — including six makes on seven attempts from beyond the arc — the Wildcats were outscored 49-43.
Tang, noting the 33-31 advantage in the first half, said he preferred the first half pace of the game given Iowa State’s prevalence for shooting better at home.
“They started making shots in the second half and you’ve gotta try to match it,” the first-year Wildcat head coach said.
When the Wildcats did get a stop in the second half, they usually failed to secure a rebound. On a night where no one other than Johnson had more than two rebounds, the Cyclones rebounded five of their nine misses during the final 20 minutes of the game.
“To me, that’s the biggest thing,” Tang said of second chance opportunities, where the Cyclones held a 17-7 advantage. “We know that’s an issue with our team that we have to get better at — because our first shot defense is not bad.”
Dealing with a back injury that forced him to grimace throughout the game, Iowa State guard Caleb Grill was limited in his production. When the Wildcats cut a 59-49 deficit to one with a 10-1 run, the Maize, Kansas, native converted on a second-chance opportunity with a 3-pointer that gave Iowa State a 63-59 advantage with 5:19 to play.
“He’s such a competitor,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “When he’s on the court our guys know how much he wants to win and his confidence in the big moment. Defensively, is he at his best? Probably not. Offensively, is he exactly at his best? Probably not.
“But man he hits a huge 3, he knocks down key free throws late and when he’s on the court our guys trust and confidence they have with him out there brings a lot to our team.”
With Grill dealing with that hindrance, 12th-ranked Iowa State leaned on Kalscheur and senior guard Jaren Holmes for an offensive lift. The backcourt duo of transfers combined to shoot 15 of 22 from the floor and Holmes’ 23 points tied his career high in an Iowa State uniform.
“Holmes was just incredible,” Tang said, “and the big fella (Osunniyi) down the stretch, we didn’t have an answer for him.”
Eight Kansas State players appeared in the contest for the Jerome Tang and six shot 50 percent or better from the floor. Only senior guard Desi Sills (0 for 3) and Nowell (6 for 17) weren’t a part of the efficient Kansas State shooting, but Nowell was a catalyst for Wildcat scoring, tallying nine of the team’s 13 assists.
Kansas State’s loss in Ames was its second in Big 12 play, meaning through eight league games every team in the conference has lost at least twice. On Saturday, the Wildcats get a reprieve from the rigor of the Big 12 and get a visit from Johnson’s old program with the Florida Gators coming to Manhattan.
As the Wildcats were absorbing their loss, Nowell said the issues felt correctable. With a quiet confidence, he appeared in good spirits of what’s to come for the Wildcats.
“They were the tougher team, but we got better from last week when we played TCU,” Nowell admitted. “We’ve just got to move on and learn from this game.”