AMES — You could write a book about Monday night’s Kansas-Iowa State basketball game.
What did it lack? It had start-to-finish, wall-to-wall intensity on the court, on the sideline, and in every row of sold-out Hilton Coliseum that often sounded like a locomotive with 14,376 lungs.
It had plot twist after plot twist. It had passion, longing, elation, anger, even a moment of humor when ISU’s Korie Lucious swished a 3-pointer on what was meant to be an alley-oop pass. Alley-oops.
It had ecstasy, it had agony. For Kansas, it was victory snatched from the proverbial jaws of defeat. For Iowa State, it was a gut-churning disappointment on top of a freakish overtime loss at Kansas the month before.
And it had a controversy that will forever leave the Cyclones’ 108-96 overtime loss to the Jayhawks as a what-might-have-been. Or, as many would say, a what-should-have-been.
It was the no-call. With Iowa State leading 90-88 with time running down in regulation, Kansas’ Elijah Johnson drove to the basket and into ISU defender Georges Niang. Johnson’s shot missed. Niang toppled to the floor with Johnson falling along with him. The carom came to Johnson on the floor. Niang was called for a holding foul with 4.9 seconds left.
Was it charge on Johnson? Yes. But instead of it getting called that way and the Cyclones almost surely winning, Johnson made both free throws and the game went to overtime. Which is where Johnson continued to make shot after shot, including a 28-footer just before the shot clock expired to seal the result.
Tuesday afternoon, the Big 12 issued this statement:
The Big 12 Conference acknowledges that officiating errors were made at the end of regulation during last night's Kansas at Iowa State men's basketball game. The plays have been reviewed and appropriate measures will be taken by the Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officials to adjust the number of future assignments for the two officials involved in conjunction with Conference policies.
Which means squat to the Cyclones, of course.
But let’s forget the officiating for a moment. I’ve covered a lot of games, and forgotten most of them before I got home that night. This was a rare bird, one that won’t fade into the archives.
“I guarantee you I don’t know if you’ve had two teams in the same game execute offensively as good as both teams did tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “That was two good teams playing.
“And the crowd was unbelievably great. Our guys responded well to the atmosphere. That was as much fun as I’ve had all year long, coaching.”
It’s easy to be appreciative after a win, of course. ISU coach Fred Hoiberg was understandably somber in his postgame press conference. But while some coaches would have had given verbal lashes to the officials, Hoiberg took a higher road.
“It is what it is, it happened, you’ve got to move past,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Georges made a heck of a play by stepping in there and drawing contact. Hey, it happens in this game. It doesn’t go our way, it’s one of those things. You move past it and try to get on to the next play. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done in overtime.”
If I’m a Cyclone fan, I like those remarks from my coach as much as the effort and skill his players displayed. I like what 6-foot-7 freshman forward Niang said after having perhaps the best game anyone ever had in shooting 3-of-17 from the field. He had 15 points, seven assists, zero turnovers, and never stopped battling defensively against 7-footer Jeff Withey.
“A call’s a call,” Niang said. “We’re men here. We’re going to move on. I promise you one thing, we’re going to come back even harder the next day.”
Johnson truly was unbelievable. Averaging nine points a game, he scored 39. Twenty-three came in last eight minutes.
So many Cyclones had stellar moments of their own. They sank 17 three-pointers, a school-record. They made a mere eight turnovers in 45 minutes. They played with no hesitation. They had, as Hoiberg said, “five playmakers on the floor.”
This loss will always be nothing but bitter to Iowa State. That’s sports. Someone loses. Sometimes it happens because of a crazy bank shot. Sometimes it happens on an official’s whim.
But what a game.