No. 7 Iowa State blitzes No. 1 Houston in second half, wins Big 12 tourney title 69-41

Iowa State forward Robert Jones (12) shoots during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston in the championship of the Big 12 Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Iowa State forward Robert Jones (12) shoots during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston in the championship of the Big 12 Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — T.J. Otzelberger nearly let the Big 12 Tournament trophy slip through his hands before adjusting his grip and raising it above his head, that polo shirt so many people find so comically tight on Iowa State’s coach stretching just a little bit more.

There was nothing funny about the way the Cyclones played Saturday night.

Led by Keshon Gilbert, the tourney’s most outstanding player, and a balanced roster in which everyone has a role, the nation’s seventh-ranked team efficiently dismantled No. 1 Houston in the championship game. Gilbert finished with 16 points as the Cyclones rolled to the 69-41 victory, giving them their sixth Big 12 trophy in their sixth title game appearance.

The margin was the largest over a No. 1 team since UCLA beat the Cougars by 32 in the 1968 Final Four.

“I give our guys all the credit,” Otzelberger said after cutting down the nets. “You hear it all the time, you want to be playing your best this time of year. I don’t think there’s any question that’s what we’re doing.”

Milan Momcilovic had 18 points and Hason Ward scored 13 for the Cyclones (27-7), who have beaten five different programs to raise the trophy, including Oklahoma, which at the time was led by current Houston coach Kelvin Sampson.

He probably felt even worse than he did in 2000 on Saturday night. Iowa State used an 18-3 run to turn a 30-23 halftime lead into the kind of blowout Sampson has rarely experienced. And that in turn gave thousands of Cyclones fans that paint Kansas City red and yellow every March plenty of reason to stand on their feet and roar their approval.

“Very seldom do you play a road game in the championship of a tournament, but you know what? Hat’s off to Iowa State’s fans,” Sampson said. “I’ve known Iowa State’s fans for a long, long time. That’s not the first time I’ve lost to them in the championship. But don’t lose sight of how good you have to be to get here.”

It doesn’t seem to matter who is coaching Iowa State at the Big 12 Tournament, either. Otzelberger became the fourth to take that trophy back to Ames, Iowa, and the third to do it in the last 10 completed events.

“You beat a team or program as good as Houston is,” he said, “your guys know they’ve accomplished something.”

Jamal Shead had 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting for Houston (30-4), which was outscored 39-18 in the second half. L.J. Cryer was held to seven points and Emanuel Sharp to five as the Cougars shot 4 of 22 from the 3-point arc and 15 of 56 from the field.

“We’ll pick ourselves up. We’ve had a great year,” Sampson said. “Forty minutes is not going to define three months.”

Iowa State built its halftime lead by playing the role of Houston better than Houston.

The preternaturally poised Cyclones never wavered when they fell behind early. They exhibited some exquisite ball movement for easy layups when the Cougars’ guards tried to lock down the perimeter. And when they got those buckets to go, it freed up Momcilovic and the rest of the Iowa State sharpshooters to begin draining 3-pointers.

On the other end, the Cyclones forced Shead into off-balance runners and long 3s at the end of the shot clock; the Big 12 player of the year — and defensive player of the year — was 2 for 11 in the first half, and it didn’t get any better in the second.

Cougars big man J’Wan Roberts was largely ineffective, too, after hurting his right leg and playing sparingly in their semifinal rout of Texas Tech. He started the game and played 13 first-half minutes before sitting out the second half.

“This game’s not near as important as his health,” Sampson said.

He probably wouldn’t have made a difference the way the Cyclones were rolling. They scored the first 10 points as part of their run to start the second half, and Momcilovic’s 3 from in front of his bench pushed their lead to 48-23 with 12:40 to go.

Resorting to desperation shots, the Cougars went 9 1/2 minutes without a field goal as the game got away from them.

It was one last blowout in a tournament where the average margin was nearly 15 points.

“We don’t really care what the outside world thinks of us,” Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey said. “That’s why we’re such a close group. We just put our head down and go to work. That’s why I don’t think there’s anyone more deserving than our team to be in this position and celebrate this moment.”

UP NEXT

Iowa State will likely be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and could get a favorable landing spot in Omaha, Nebraska, for the opening weekend. It is only about a 2 1/2-hour drive from its campus in Ames.

Houston almost certainly had locked up a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tourney. The question now is whether the selection committee would put the Cougars in the same region as Iowa State to set up a potential rematch.

___

Get poll alerts and updates on AP Top 25 basketball throughout the season. Sign up here.

___

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

Sports Headlines

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed AP

Trending on NewsNation