Kansas State vs. Iowa State Score: Cyclones knock out Wildcats, forcing a three-way tie atop Big 12 leaderboard

Just three days after solo promotion to first place in the Big 12, No. 5 Kansas State’s run as the only team at the top of the country’s most cutthroat conference came to an end as the Wildcats fell 80-76 in 12th state Iowa. Jaren Holmes led the Cyclones with 23 points, including two free throws in the dying seconds that helped cement the score.

The win moved Iowa State (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) along with K-State and Texas into a three-way tie for first spot in the Big 12 after the Longhorns defeated the state at home on Tuesday defeated Oklahoma. Four players scored double-digit goals for the Cyclones, who went unbeaten at home and washed away the bad taste of a lost 16-point lead from Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State.

Kansas State also had four players in double figures, but the Wildcats struggled defensively in the second half as Iowa State shot 62.5% from the floor and made 15 of 19 free throws in the final half. The Wildcats (17-3, 6-2) picked up 23 points from point guard Markquis Nowell, 18 of them in the second half, but just couldn’t muster enough stops.

K-State will drop the predicted No. 1 seed line in CBS Sports Bracketology expert Jerry Palm’s predicted NCAA tournament field because of the loss. The Wildcats remain one of college basketball’s greatest stories after being picked bottom in the Big 12 under Jerome Tang as a freshman year, but Tuesday was a reminder of just how tough life in the Big 12 is this season.

Arrive in the state of Iowa

The win marks Iowa State’s first victory over a top-five opponent since the 2015-16 season, when the Cyclones beat No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas in consecutive weeks. Current head coach TJ Otzelberger was an assistant on this team, which rose to No. 4 in the AP poll and made the Sweet 16 at No. 4 in the NCAA tournament.

Those heights seemed a long way off in the 2020-21 season as the Cyclones battled for a 2-22 (0-18) record. But then the ISU hired Otzelberger away from UNLV, and their fortunes immediately turned. The Cyclones finished last season 22-13 in their first year under Otzelberger, making the Sweet 16 after the worst season in program history. The 2022-23 team proves last season was no fluke.

In fact, this Iowa State team appears to be even better than last season’s roster, despite losing top scorer Izaiah Brockington to the finish and second-top scorer Tyrese Hunter moving to Texas. The Cyclones are now 6-4 in Quad 1 games and a 2-0 combined against Kansas State and Texas, with whom they share first place in the conference.

The Kansas State grind

Tuesday night’s action only reinforced just how brutal the Big 12 are this season. Not far behind the trio of 6-2 teams are mighty powers Baylor and Kansas at 5-3. Also at 5-3, #11 is TCU. All six teams in Groups 6-2 and 5-3 appear to have a legitimate chance of winning the conference. The league’s bottom four, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech are also in the top 75 in the NET rankings.

The Big 12 is a grind, but the good thing for the Wildcats is that Tang is no stranger to that reality. After 19 seasons as an assistant at Baylor, Tang knows the Big 12 better than most. After his team’s first Big 12 loss at TCU on Jan. 14, K-State bounced back by beating Kansas in the next game.

There are plenty of defensive issues that the Wildcats in Tuesday’s movie of the game need to address, but there’s no need to worry about the Iowa State loss. Hilton Coliseum is a notoriously difficult place for opponents, and K-State played well enough offensively in that environment to win. Ultimately, the Wildcats’ defense failed the team.

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