So Much Heart, So Much Heartbreak For Cyclones

By Mike Hlas, Reporter

Ohio State Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft (4) gestures after making the game winning shot as Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) kneels to the ground during the third round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at University of Dayton Arena. Ohio State defeats Iowa State 78-75. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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By Grant Burkhardt

DAYTON, Ohio — A team’s first injury of the season, an official’s interpretation of a coin-flip block/charge, a critical rebound that wan’t collared, a 3-pointer its opponent made with a half-second left in the game.

The huge heart Iowa State showed Sunday went back to Ames broken. For as much as winning 22 games including a rout of Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament, the story of this season will always be “What Might Have Been.”

The Cyclones’ 78-75 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA’s third-round tit-for-tat battle at the University of Dayton Arena will forever stand as one of the most-painful defeats in school lore. It makes an opposite bookend to their Feb. 25 home loss to Kansas, one that got two Big 12 officials disciplined for their errors late in the second half.

Here’s the ultimate story of this game, though, the “one shining moment” that will be part of CBS’ season-ending montage of 2013 NCAA tournament highlights:

Craft made the shot.

Plucky, it was. Craft turned the ball over twice in the last 5:31. He missed the front end of one-and-ones twice in the last 4:07. He had missed a jumper earlier in OSU’s final possession, but ISU’s Melvin Ejim was unable to corral the rebound inbounds with 29.9 seconds left and the game tied at 75.

So, playing for the final shot in regulation, Craft dribbled the clock down. He was checked at the end by 6-foot-7 Cyclone freshman forward Georges Niang.

“I could swear he was gonna drive,” Niang told teammate Tyrus McGee later in the Iowa State dressing room.

He didn’t. Craft had enough shooting room to pop the three that ended Iowa State’s season.

What might have been. Ohio State will play Arizona in the Sweet 16, and the winner will face a big underdog in the West Regional final in Los Angeles. Had the Cyclones won this game, they would be the pick of many to advance to the Final Four.

But Craft didn’t drive. He launched his only 3-point attempt of the game, perhaps the biggest he’ll ever make.

“You’ve got to take your hat off to him,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The kid stepped up and made a big shot. That’s who he is.”

Saddled with four fouls, it was Niang’s first stretch of defense in the game’s final three minutes. Guard Bubu Palo subbed in for him on every OSU possession until the end.

“He isolated Georges,” Cyclone point guard Korie Lucious said. “He made a tough shot.”

Had McGee or Lucious been on Craft, the Buckeye probably would have passed the ball. But he added “The shot I took right before that felt pretty good. I thought I could make the next one, and was able to do so.”

It was an open shot from the top of the arc.

“I was playing him for the drive,” Niang said. “He’s been doing it all night. The shot before when they wound it down and we didn’t get the rebound, he tried a jump shot and missed it. So I thought he was definitely going to drive it and for sure try to get a foul. That’s usually what players do.

“He stepped up and made a big shot.”

Had the game gone overtime, it would have been five more minutes of nursing Niang’s foul-situation. McGee had four personals, too. Those were problems Hoiberg would have loved to have.

What hurt perhaps as dearly as Craft’s clutch shot was the charging foul on Clyburn with 1:41 left and Iowa State up 75-74. If Clyburn’s basket on the drive had stood, it’s 77-74 and who knows what happens after that? What might have been.

On CBS after the game, NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams said “The rule is a secondary defender cannot establish legal guarding position standing in the restricted area.

“The number of replays that we’ve looked at, the case is being made that the defender had his foot up in the air hovering over the restricted area of the arc.”

Meaning, Craft didn’t have legal guarding position if that were the case. But … bang-bang play. Adams later put out a statement saying the official determined the defender had established position outside the restricted area. The play was unreviewable.

And what if Iowa State senior Chris Babb not rolled an ankle late in the first-half and been done for the game? He would have been assigned to guard Craft on the deciding play, for sure.

It was the first significant injury of the season for the 22-12 Cyclones.

“What a time to have it, huh?” Babb said.

“I think everybody did a great job stepping up. I think Tyrus did a great job, made some big shots, got a couple of steals. Will did a great job on (Deshaun) Thomas in the second-half without me.

It was true. Hoiberg’s quintet of Lucious, Clyburn, McGee, Ejim and Niang stunned Ohio State and the national audience by rallying from a 69-56 deficit with 6:04 left to tie the game at 69 with 3:53 remaining. Nineteen seconds after that, the Cyclones took a 71-69 lead.

“I’m just happy to be in this circle of guys that’s all about winning,” Niang said. “I feel like we showed that the last six minutes.”

They showed it for 40 minutes, actually. ISU, a 7-point underdog, out-rebounded the Buckeyes 24-13 in the first-half and played defense as well as Hoiberg could have hoped against a genuine national-title threat.

But ISU didn’t finish several good scoring chances near the rim, and turned the ball over 16 times to OSU’s nine.

The terrific Thomas and sidekick LaQuinton Ross played great in building that 13-point lead, and the roaring crowd of mostly Ohioans made it feel like it was five Cyclones against the world.

Somehow, Iowa State battled back with a flurry that dazed the Buckeyes and drained the red from the faces of Ohio State’s fans. It just wasn’t enough.

What might have been. Oh, what might have been.

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