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February 20, 2013

Iowa State cures its road blues

An Iowa State team very much needing a road win got one Wednesday night, overcoming a litany of trends and patterns that had stacked up against such a thing happening on a Wednesday night in Waco, Texas.

The Cyclones outgunned Baylor, 87-82, in an entertaining game that served as a reminder of what college basketball can be as the sport spirals into the abyss of 52-48 final scores. It was ISU's first quality win on the road this season, its first win on Baylor's home floor since 2000 and its first weeknight road win in conference play since February of 2007.

It's been an agonizing season on the road for Iowa State with opponent buzzer-beaters at Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas seemingly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And then there was the inexplicable clunker at Texas Tech. The only Big 12 road loss of the season where ISU could come away from it and say "a good team straight up beat us on its home floor" was Kansas State.

Fortunately, the Cyclones are perfect at Hilton Coliseum this season to overcome the road woes and another home court victory should be served up Saturday against the dreadful Red Raiders. Texas Tech has barely sniffed the lead in a game, let alone won, since downing Iowa State on Jan. 23. Tech hasn't won since and five of the seven losses have been by double digits.

A win on Saturday would put Iowa State at 9-5 in the conference (and 19-8) overall headed into a Big Monday home game against Kansas. Although it's very tempting to think about just how close the Cyclones are to being 13-1 in the Big 12 going into Monday night, it's probably best not to.

Realistic goals for this season included a top four conference finish and an NCAA tourney berth with a top six regional seed. With the win at Baylor, both are very attainable as the Cyclones look to overcome the road heartbreak they've encountered this winter in Big 12 bergs Lawrence, Stillwater and Austin.

Beat KU in Ames for a second straight year and ISU is 10-5 in the league with 20 wins overall and it's shooting up the mock brackets with a bullet. And Iowa State should be plenty motivated for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is knowing that it had the Jayhawks beat in Allen Fieldhouse if not for a bank shot three-pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Baylor raced out to an 8-2 lead Wednesday night in Waco, but the Cyclones pared that down to 12-11 by the first media timeout and you knew it was a game where a lot of points would be scored. The second media timeout in a clean, almost whistle-free first half didn't come until the 9:34 mark and the Bears had a 25-21 lead at that point.

But the second "quarter" of the game very much belonged to the Cyclones and ISU had a 41-36 at halftime. Iowa State outscored BU, 20-11, over the final 9 minutes of the half. Baylor's last lead of the game was 27-25 on two L.J. Rose free throws with 7:54 in the half and the Cyclones never relinquished the lead again after going ahead 34-31 on a Melvin Ejim three-pointer with 3:17 to play before halftime.

A quick start to the second half gave ISU its largest lead of the game to that point, 45-36, with over 18 minutes still to play. Baylor trimmed it to one at 47-46 on a Pierre Jackson three with just over 16 minutes to go. But Iowa State responded with an 11-4 spurt to make it 58-50 on a Korie Lucious three-pointer at the 11:27 mark.

ISU's first double-digit lead was 64-53 on an Ejim lay up with 8:43 to play and the Cyclones led by 11 again at 70-59 when Chris Babb drained a corner three with 6:23 left in the game. Iowa State kept it a three-possession (or more) game until Jackson hit a jumper with just over a minute to play to make it 80-74.

But Jackson, who led all scorers with 30 points, was uncharacteristically shaky at the free throw line for BU. He finished the night 1-for-7 on free throws and no two misses were bigger than those with 13 seconds to play and the Cyclones clinging to an 84-79 lead. McGee rebounded the second miss and was fouled and his two made free throws with 12 seconds to play got it back to a three-possession game at 86-79 and sealed the deal for Iowa State.

McGee came off the bench with instant offense in the first half and went on to score a team-high 22 points for ISU. Ejim scored key buckets in the second half and had another double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Lucious scored 16 and Georges Niang 15 for Iowa State, which put up 87 points in a second straight Big 12 game (beat TCU 87-53 on Sat.)

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