AMES — First one set of eyes drooped downward. Then another.
Uh-oh, went Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg’s finely-tuned morale meter as his team blew an 18-point second-half lead Saturday against Texas Tech.
“We just lost our minds for a stretch,” Hoiberg said.
Consider them fully found — if a bit shaken.
The No. 14 Cyclones survived the surging Red Raiders’ rally, holding on for a 70-64 win before 4,384 fans at Hilton Coliseum.
ISU (19-5, 7-5 Big 12) won despite making 11 fewer free throws than Tech (13-12, 5-7), being out rebounded 40-30 and allowing a 15-2 run in the second half.
DeAndre Kane nearly notched a triple-double for the Cyclones, finishing with 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Georges Niang matched Kane with 17 points — including eight of his team’s final 13.
The last came on an almost-dunk with five seconds left that finally cemented the tenser-than-planned victory. Why an almost dunk?
“My teammates aren’t going to give me credit for it, so I’m not going to take credit for it,” said Niang, who added four assists and three rebounds.
But credit ISU for overcoming some unsavory stats, Tech’s comeback that actually led to a short-lived 62-61 lead, and the back-of-the-mind doubts created by Monday’s 102-77 blowout loss at West Virginia.
The Cyclones shot 52 percent from the field (but made just 9 of 19 free throws) after suffering through their second-worst shooting performance of the season (36.7 percent) at Morgantown.
“These games are tough; it’s the Big 12,” said Kane, whose mother and sisters made the trip from Pittsburgh to watch him play. “Every team’s got players. They’ve got a good coach (in Tech’s case, Tubby Smith). We were just fortunate to get the win. Our defensive intensity was as good as it’s been in a while, so I was proud of that.”
About that defense: ISU limited the Red Raiders to 37 percent field-goal shooting and forced 13 turnovers, including eight in the first half that led to a 12-0 edge in points off miscues.
“(It was) just being active,” said Kane, who had two of ISU’s six steals along with three of its seven turnovers. “Our hands lately, in the last couple games we played, hadn’t been active enough to force turnovers, and we wanted to do that (Saturday) and get out on the break to get easy points. Think we did that.
Especially in the first half, after which the Cyclones led 39-29 by closing with a 15-4 run.
Naz Long hit three 3-pointers before the break and added another during a 12-2 flurry early in the season as ISU built its biggest lead of 51-33.
“Coach Hoiberg and I, we were working a little bit after practice just on the little fundamentals and mechanics and stuff,” said Long, who finished with 14 points. “It felt good.”
But then the mind losing began.
Tech’s 15-2 run spanned just two and a half minutes — and came with the Cyclones’ Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue going in and out with foul trouble.
“We needed to have one of them on the floor,” Hoiberg said.
Ejim finished with 13 points and six rebounds while Hogue added five points, three boards and two blocked shots.
“They pulled it together,” Hoiberg said. “Georges made some big plays for us down the stretch. Matt (Thomas) made a big basket — his only one of the game. And DeAndre made a lot of plays for us. Happy to walk out of herewith a win, but still have work to do to get to that next level.”
Defense made up the bulk of that labor post-West Virginia.
Now it’s back to the “complete game” question — a lingering one for the Cyclones, who play host Tuesday to No. 19 Texas.“That wouldn’t have been too good of a loss on our resume,” Niang said of Saturday’s game. “I feel like we played a good 30 minutes of basketball, but this game is 40 minutes, so we had to step it up at the end and close it out.”