AMES — As Kansas’ Ben McLemore released the shot, a pleasant thought crossed Iowa State point guard Korie Lucious’s mind.
“I was, like, ‘That’s off,’” said Lucious, who saw happiness turn to horror as the basketball smacked the the glass and found the bottom of the net, forcing overtime in the ninth-ranked Jayhawks’ eventual 97-89 win over the Cyclones Jan. 9 in Lawrence. “I knew he’d shot it hard ... but it went in. It was tough.”
It’s a memory not easily erased for ISU’s players, coaches and fans alike — but a bright, fresh, buoyant one could displace it if the Cyclones (19-8, 9-5) upend Kansas (23-4, 11-3) in Monday’s ESPN-televised 8 p.m. Big 12 game at Hilton Coliseum.
“I think this is probably one of our biggest games of the year to keep in that hunt for the NCAA Tournament and the Big 12 (race),” said Cyclone guard Chris Babb, who is shooting 53 percent from 3-point range the past eight games. “We have to play a great game. We’ve got to come out with great focus and energy and continue to move the ball like we have been and get stops.”
Tall order against McLemore, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and company?
Maybe, but a multi-faceted task ISU nearly accomplished the first time despite Lucious enduring the one of only two negative assist-to-turnover ratio games (two assists, three turnovers) in conference play.
The other came in the 56-51 loss at ninth-place Texas Tech, a team the Cyclones flattened Saturday, 86-66, to remain tied for fourth in the standings with Oklahoma.
Lucious had six assists to two turnovers against the Red Raiders this time around — and ranks third in the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play (2.21).
“He made great plays,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, who helped beat three top-ten Kansas teams at Hilton in his playing days. “It always starts with Korie. (He’s) had a terrific conference season. I don’t think he’s talked about enough. I think he’s been playing as one of the elite point guards in our league.”
Jayhawks coach Bill Self told reporters Saturday the Lucious-led Cyclones “score easier than anyone” in the Big 12.
“I’ve said that all year long and it’s true,” he added.
As for McLemore — who could go high in this year’s NBA Draft if he declares, Lucious tips his cap.
“A good, lucky shot, man,” said Lucious, who was guarding the other side of the floor when McLemore delivered the off-by-just-enough heartbreaker. “Can’t take anything away from him. He made it.”
Someway.“I don’t think I’ll ever flush the memory of that three,” Hoiberg said.