AMES, Iowa — There would be no upset this time around.
Exactly one month after stunning Iowa State in Lubbock, the Red Raiders couldn’t find nearly the same formula in an 86-66 loss to the Cyclones inside rowdy Hilton Coliseum.
Tech (9-16, 2-12 in Big 12), which dropped its eighth game in a row, knew it would have to be near perfect to repeat the feat on the road against Iowa State.
The Red Raiders were anything but.
Tech shot just 28 percent (7 of 25) from the 3-point line and 52 percent (13 of 25) from the free-throw line. Iowa State, which made just 6 of 23 3-point shots in the 56-51 loss to Tech on Jan. 23, nailed 11 of 29 attempts from beyond the arc Saturday.
Finding shots wasn’t a problem. Making them was.
“It’s frustrating,” Tech coach Chris Walker said. “As a former player you see everything. Unfortunately you’re not on the floor. You draw things up for them and things are open. They’re just not confident enough, or they don’t want to turn the ball over.”
Dusty Hannahs and Ty Nurse, Tech’s two best perimeter shooters, went a combined 2 of 12 from 3-point range. Tech had a one-point lead, 19-18, 12 1/2 minutes into the game as the Cylcones (19-8, 9-5) switched to zone. Penetration was limited after that, but the Red Raiders still found ways to create offense. But they couldn’t finish, shooting just 38 percent from the floor in the second half.
“Any time you work hard on offense to get a shot and it doesn’t go in, it just kills you,” said Tech forward Jaye Crockett, who recorded his eighth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He also recorded three steals.
Iowa State, which won for the 22nd straight time at home, made 23 of 30 free throws and dominated on the glass, 43-31.
Josh Gray recorded his second strong performance in a row with a game-high 20 points, four assists and two steals. (He also had three turnovers.) Three days earlier, he had poured in 26 points against Oklahoma, the most points ever scored by a Tech freshman in a Big 12 game.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg switched his team’s defense to zone during several stretches in the game in an effort to limit Gray’s opportunities to attack the basket.
“That kid is a heck of player,” Hoiberg said. “He’s going to be really good. We shrunk the floor more, went to some zone that slowed them down some, I thought. ... He was getting around us, doing whatever he wanted in those first 15 minutes.”
Gray said his confidence has grown in recent weeks, adding he has put in hours of work on his own in order to accelerate his learning process. He also said big numbers mean little to him with the Red Raiders still unable to find the win column.
“I was playing for my teammates, trying to get them some easy baskets, trying to get me some easy baskets,” Gray said. “They just didn’t fall for us tonight. It’s like that sometimes.”
Four different Iowa State players scored in double figures, with Chris Babb and Will Clyburn leading the way with 17 points apiece. The Cyclones made it clear: This one was personal after the setback a month earlier.
“We had this one circled on the calendar,” Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim said.
Tech fought neck-and-neck with Iowa State nearly the entire first half — highlighted by a jaw-dropping windmill dunk from Crockett — before a crushing sequence with less than 90 seconds left in the period swung momentum in the Cyclones’ favor.
With the Red Raiders trailing by two, 28-26, Jordan Tolbert missed a short jumper and Iowa State grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball in transition. Tyrus McGee found Chris Babb, who nailed a 3-pointer to extend the lead to five. On the shot, Dejan Kravic fouled Melvin Ejim under the basket, and with Tech in the double bonus, Ejim nailed both free throws to give ISU a 33-26 lead.
It was a seven-point swing in just 12 seconds, the kind of blow the Red Raiders don’t have the firepower to overcome.
“That kind of sparked our transition,” said Babb, who hit five 3-pointers. “We weren’t really getting out in transition until then. That kind of sparked us and let us know that’s how we needed to be playing.”
Tech cut the deficit to five points on Gray’s jumper to begin the second half, but the visitors never got any closer than that, buried in the second half by a barrage of Iowa State 3-pointers and their own inability to hit shots when they needed them most.
“For 28 minutes we played really well,” Walker said. “But in those other 12 minutes, things go bad for us real quickly.”
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