STILLWATER, Okla. -- Walking toward the locker room, Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane looked haggard yet relieved. His words said it all.
"Man, that was huge," he said.
Indeed, it was.
Kane’s Cyclones had just capped off their 98-97 triple-overtime win over Oklahoma State at Gallagher Iba Arena on Monday night. The Cyclones appeared on the brink of falling below .500 in Big 12 play multiple times during the three-overtime thriller, but ISU made the key shots and got the key stops when it needed them to earn the program’s first win in Stillwater since 1988, a span of 18 games.
With both teams sitting at 4-4 in Big 12 play and understanding the critical nature of the head-to-head battle, ISU and OSU took turns throwing punches and responding to each other’s runs during regulation and the first two overtime periods. Cyclones sophomore Naz Long hit a 3-pointer to force a third overtime after OSU appeared poised to earn an emotional win on the night the program honored former longtime coach Eddie Sutton.
"He rose up with no fear and hit the biggest shot of the game to extend it," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Freshman guard Monte Morris buried a clutch 3-pointer with less than a minute left in the third overtime to give the Cyclones a lead they would never relinquish, as Le'Bryan Nash’s last-second jumper clanged off the rim.
"We had guys step up [with] Naz, Monte making huge shots," said ISU forward Melvin Ejim, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. "The confidence coach instills in us to go out and knock down that shot with confidence showed today. We had multiple guys step up and make big shots."
Now Iowa State’s fortunes could be turning after having lost four of their past six games heading Monday’s clash. The schedule becomes Iowa State’s friend over the next four games, with ISU (17-4, 5-4) hosting TCU (Feb. 8), Texas Tech (Feb. 15) and Texas (Feb. 18), with another big Monday matchup at West Virginia on Feb. 10 serving as the lone road tilt.
"To gut this win out was huge. It would have been a very difficult loss," Hoiberg said. "I’m proud of our guys to win it."
For Oklahoma State, things aren’t looking quite as rosy. The loss dropped the Cowboys below .500 in Big 12 play with their third straight loss, Marcus Smart struggling, the dismissal of freshman guard Stevie Clark earlier in the day and questions about effort surrounding Travis Ford’s squad.
The Cowboys (16-6, 4-5), who rose as high as No. 5 in the AP poll earlier this season, ended Monday in seventh place in the Big 12.
Ford, OSU’s sixth-year coach, was a man of few words after the game as adversity continues hit the Cowboys locker room, but his words were revealing.
"There were things we can build on that we haven't seen in the last week and a half," Ford said. "That's the positive part of it. We just need to go get a win and go from there. We need to play with that kind of effort for 40 minutes."
Positive words based purely on the effort of a team that was considered among the nation’s best at one point this season? This is not why Smart returned to OSU. The Cowboys are on the brink of disaster as they enter the second half of conference play.
Asked how his team can get things back on track with back-to-back road trips to Texas Tech and Texas on the horizon, Ford was at a loss for all words but one.
"Win," he responded.