Kansas State vs. Iowa State score: Cyclones beat Wildcats to force three-way tie atop Big 12 standings

Just three days after climbing into sole possession of first place in the Big 12, No. 5 Kansas State’s run as the only team atop the standings in the nation’s fiercest conference ended as the Wildcats fell 80-76 to No. 12 Iowa State. Jaron Holmes led the Cyclones with 23 points, including a pair of free throws in the closing seconds that helped seal the score.

With the win, Iowa State (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 along with K-State and Texas after the Longhorns handled Oklahoma State at home on Tuesday. Four players scored in double figures for the Cyclones, who remained undefeated at home and washed away the bad taste of blowing a 16-point lead in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State.

Kansas State also had four players in double figures, but the Wildcats struggled defensively in the second half as Iowa State shot 62.5 percent from the floor in the final half and made 15 of 19 free throws. The Wildcats (17-3, 6-2) got 23 points from point guard Marquis Nowell, including 18 in the second half, but just couldn’t come up with enough stops.

K-State will fall out of the projected No. 1 seed in the CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm tournament with the loss. The Wildcats remain one of the best stories in college basketball after being picked to finish last in the Big 12 under first-year coach Jerome Tang, but Tuesday was a reminder of just how rough life has been in the Big 12 this season.

Arrival of Iowa State

The win marked Iowa State’s first victory over a top-5 opponent since the 2015-16 season, when the Cyclones defeated No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas in back-to-back weeks. Current head coach TJ Otzelberger was an assistant on that team that rose to No. 4 in the AP Poll and reached the Sweet 16 as the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Those heights seemed far away in the 2020-21 season, when the Cyclones struggled to a 2-22 (0-18) record. But then ISU recruited Otzelberger away from UNLV, and his fortunes immediately turned. The Cyclones finished 22-13 last season in their first year under Otzelberger and reached the Sweet 16 after the worst season in program history. The 2022-23 team proves that last season was no fluke.

In fact, this Iowa State team looks even better than last season’s lineup despite losing leading scorer Isaiah Brockington to graduation and second leading scorer Tyrese Hunter to Texas. The Cyclones are now 6-4 in Quad 1 games and are 2-0 overall against Kansas State and Texas, with whom they share first place in the conference.

The Kansas State Grind

Tuesday night’s action only reinforced how brutal the Big 12 has been this season. Not far behind the trio of 6-2 teams are perennial powers Baylor and Kansas at 5-3. Also at 5-3 is No. 11 TCU. All six teams in the bracket with 6-2 and 5-3 teams appear to have a legitimate shot at winning the conference. The league’s bottom four of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech are also among the top 75 in the NET rankings.

The Big 12 is a grind, but the good thing about the Wildcats is that Tang is no stranger to that reality. After 19 seasons as an assistant at Baylor, Tang knows the Big 12 better than most. After his team’s first Big 12 loss at TCU on Jan. 14, K-State bounced back with a win against Kansas in its next outing.

There are plenty of defensive issues for the Wildcats to address from Tuesday’s game film, but there’s no cause for concern because of the loss to Iowa State. Hilton Coliseum is a notoriously tough place for opponents, and K-State performed well enough offensively in that environment to win. Ultimately, the Wildcats’ defense is what let the team down.

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