Among others points of emphasis, ever-composed Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg’s scrawled “no T’s” on the team’s whiteboard before the Cyclones’ Big 12 Tournament semifinal against Kansas on Friday.
Everyone cooperated except Hoiberg, who was smacked with what he called just the second technical foul of his life to further enable what would become a 16-0 Kansas run in the first half at the Sprint Center.
Maybe a tech can provide a spark, and Hoiberg acknowledged he “used a bad word.” But if he meant to get teed up, he wouldn’t again.
“I think we just got a little bit unraveled. And I think we were looking more at the officials than ourselves,” he said, later adding, “It wasn’t us out there after I got it, so I probably won’t get another one.”
On their way to a 94-83 statement win over the top-seeded Jayhawks, Hoiberg and No. 4 seed Iowa State could be forgiven for needing to take what he called “a deep breath” during their next time out.
By about any measure other than Hoiberg’s career as a player, when the Cyclones were 4-5 against KU, the Jayhawks have been an albatross for Iowa State.
The Jayhawks led the overall series 176-59. They’d beaten the Cyclones in all three previous Big 12 Tournament matchups.
That included last year, when they already had inflicted on them what Hoiberg called two of the most heartbreaking losses of his coaching career.
Hoiberg had been 1-8 against KU, whose sweep of the regular-season series obscured the fact Iowa State otherwise had been 7-0 against the Top 25 this season.
Not to mention that Kansas was the colossus that had won at least a share of the last 10 Big 12 regular-season titles.
“It’s a great win for us for the fact that it gives us confidence that we can compete with anybody in the nation,” said Hoiberg, whose team will seek its first conference tournament title since 2000 on Saturday against Baylor. “It was good to finally get one of these at the end after struggling to close out games against Kansas here these past few years.”
It was a bruising path there before a terrific crowd balanced with KU and ISU fans. The game featured plenty of chippy moments that forward Georges Niang will be a human monument to going forward.
Niang not only led the Cyclones with 25 points, including 14 in the second-half, when he made seven of 10 field goals, but he also left the floor gushing blood in the final minutes after suffering a gash above his right eye beneath the bucket.
He had five stitches to remember it by after the game.
“Do I look better now?” Niang joked. “That was what Coach was telling me: I look a little better now.”
The jury was out on that, but Iowa State’s trajectory sure was looking better — and Niang had plenty to do with it.
“He scores the majority of his points by being crafty,” KU coach Bill Self said. “He’s not the quickest guy, but he’s probably as hard to guard as anybody because he can play at different speeds and he’s shifty and he can get you leaning one way and come back the other.
“He’s a fun player to watch unless he’s kicking your butt like he did tonight.”
That, and the fact that Iowa State hit 17 of 25 field goals in the second half, says a little something about Kansas without Joel Embiid.
But it also reaffirms what Self has been saying: that Iowa State is the most talented team in the Big 12, and the Cyclones’ ohesion and balance is part of that.
Forward Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, was Iowa State’s third-leading scorer (19 points) on Friday behind Niang and guard DeAndre Kane (20, including five three-pointers), who is one of just three players nationally to average 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Forward Dustin Hogue and guard Monte Morris also were in double figures for Iowa State in a game that could have turned the other way after their first-half funk.
But after Brannen Greene’s three capped KU’s 16-0 run and gave Kansas a 32-23 lead, Ejim hit a three that stopped the streak.
The Cyclones nibbled away from there, tying it with 1:42 left in the half on another Kane three, and then it was what Niang called “clear skies” after they roared out in the second half.
Hoiberg prides himself on staying calm, in part because it’s his personality but also in part because he believes how he conducts himself on the sidelines sends a message to his team.
But in this rarest of moments, when Hoiberg let slip, his broader message still resonated after he caught himself.
“Coach preaches, ‘How are you going to act when adversity hits you?’” Niang said. “‘Are you going to give up? Are you going to point the finger? Are you going to point the finger at yourself? How are you going to act?’”
That was answered on plenty of promising levels Friday.