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December 26, 2013

Same script nets school record

It was only fitting that Iowa State's record-setting 11th straight victory to open the 2013-14 men's basketball season followed a similar script to each of the significant wins that had come before it.

The Cyclones defeated Boise State, 70-66, in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic tournament Christmas night in Honolulu. The win was ISU's third in four days in Hawaii and boosted its season record to 11-0, marking the first time ever that a Cyclone team has opened a season with 11 straight victories.

Iowa State started slow, labored through much of the first half, won the halftime, and came back to win the game in the second half. The storyline was what we had already seen several times this season.

The Cyclones have not been outscored in the second half of a game this year. Whether against slappies or nationally-ranked high majors, ISU has always been the better team over the final 20 minutes of 11 games to date. With the three non-conference gimmes removed from the picture to simplify and clarify, it's easy to see how good Iowa State has been in the second half against good to very good competition:

Michigan - Iowa State led by one at halftime, 35-34, then outscored the no. 7 Wolverines 42-36 in the second half for a 77-70 win;

BYU - Iowa State trailed 47-42 at halftime, then outscored the Cougars 48-41 in the second half for a 90-88 win in Provo;

Auburn - Iowa State dominated both halves to whip the Tigers from the SEC, leading 47-28 at halftime and holding a 52-42 advantage in the second half in a 99-70 rout;

Northern Iowa - Iowa State trailed, 42-29, at halftime, then outscored UNI by the same score in reverse in the second half, forcing overtime. In OT, the Cyclones outscored the Panthers, 20-11. Iowa State's post-halftime advantage was 62-40;

Iowa - Iowa State trailed, 45-38, at halftime, then outscored the no. 22 Hawkeyes 47-37 in the second half for an 85-82 win;

George Mason - Iowa State led, 34-29, at halftime and then outscored the Patriots 45-38 in the second half for a 79-67 win to open the Hawaii tournament;

Akron - Iowa State led, 37-31, at halftime and then outscored the Zips 46-29 in the second half for an 83-60 win;

Boise State - Iowa State trailed, 34-27, at halftime, then outscored the Broncos 43-32 in the second half.

Boise proved to be one of the toughest outs of the season so far for Iowa State. The Cyclones didn't lead in the game until Melvin Ejim scored on an offensive rebound and putback of a missed free throw to put ISU ahead, 44-43, with 13:44 to go in the game.

Iowa State extended the lead to 47-43 on a Georges Niang three-pointer with 12:55 to go and got the advantage to five at 58-53 on a pair of Niang free throws at the 5:56 mark. But the Broncos certainly never let ISU separate and the game was in doubt into the final minute. Boise tied things at 60-60 before the Cyclones scored five straight for a 65-60 lead. Three BSU free throws made it 65-63 before two Ejim free throws got the ISU lead back to two possessions at 67-63 with 20 seconds to go.

Boise State made it a one-possession game at 67-64 by converting one of two free throws on its next possession. But then Ejim made one of two free throws and Dustin Hogue swooped in to rebound the miss and get fouled himself, leading to two more made FTs and a 70-64 Iowa State lead with four seconds left to go.

The game marked the fourth time this season that Iowa State has come back from a double-digit deficit to win. Boise State had a 22-11 lead with 6:25 left to play in the first half. But over a roughly 12-minute span including the final six minutes of the first half and the opening six minutes of the second, ISU outscored the Broncos 33-21 to grab its first lead of the game at 44-43.

It was 34-27 at halftime with Iowa State shooting just 31 percent from the field while Boise State hit 50 percent of its first-half shots. There was little doubt ISU would get its offense going in the second half and it did, scoring 43 points. And the Cyclones kept the defensive clamps on Boise as well, extending a streak of seven straight halves holding opponents under 40 points.

All three of Iowa State's opponents in Hawaii failed to break out of the 60s for points in a game and Iowa was the last team to score 40+ in a half against the Cyclones back in the first half on Dec. 13. In halves that have mattered, Iowa State has given up 40 or more points only four times this year, a low number given its pace of play and the revamped defensive foul rules that favor more offense.

Iowa State once more got almost all of its scoring from the "core of four" that has emerged as the bedrock on which the 11-0 start is built. DeAndre Kane scored 23 points, including four three-point field goals, to lead the way. Niang added 16, Ejim 15 and Hogue 13. The core of four scored 67 of ISU's 70 points.

The Cyclones have one more hurdle to clear to finish off an undefeated non-conference season. Iowa State hosts 5-5 Northern Illinois next Tuesday. The New Year's Eve night game should be a win for ISU as NIU has only four wins over unimpressive Division I opponents (SJSU, Dart, Loyola IL, Cal-Irvine) with the largest coming by eight points. The Huskies lost by 26 to UMass (80-54) in their only game against a ranked opponent so far.


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