AMES, Iowa — Iowa State fans call it Hilton Magic — a name given to Hilton Coliseum, the home of the Cyclones, for a couple of improbable wins 23 years ago.
The arena is packed on most nights, and whenever the Cyclones pull off an upset or a win late, fans talk about this so-called “magic”. But the fact is this: Hilton Magic becomes a lot more effective when there are good players on the court for the Cyclones — and Royce White is a pretty darn good player.
So with 22 seconds left in a tied game against Kansas State, who better to have the ball than Iowa State’s 6-foot-8, 270-pound point-forward? The sophomore took the ball on the inbounds pass, ran the clock down, and then attacked, scoring on an eight-foot jumper from the baseline with 1.8 seconds left to give Iowa State a 72-70 comeback win on Tuesday, as K-State became another victim of Iowa State’s home floor.
But the reality was the Wildcats, just like Kansas last Saturday, weren’t necessarily victimized by anything the crowd did or the arena’s mystique, but rather by White, who scored 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and four assists.
“He’s a nightmare of a matchup,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “Our kids tried to guard him, he’s just real good.”
Iowa State (16-6, 6-3) called a timeout with 22 seconds left following a loose-ball scramble, and coming out of the timeout, there was little doubt White would be the guy with the ball in his hands.
White, who was guarded by freshman Adrian Diaz, used a ball screen from Chris Babb and attacked the basket. The Wildcats switched on the screen, with Rodney McGruder picking up White with the clock winding down. But McGruder bit on White’s shot-fake, leaving an open jumper that he wouldn’t miss.
“If the game came down to the last possession any time, any dribble-handoff, any ball-screen, we were going to switch and we did,” Martin said. “Rodney made a mistake. He got out of the way and jumped on his shot fake and when you give a good player a look at the rim he’s not going to miss.”
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg said he knew White would make the right decision with the ball in his hands late.
“Royce I felt had it going as well as anybody,” Hoiberg said. “I knew if the defense would have helped off he was going to hit one of our shooters. I wanted to put the ball in his hands and let him make the play.”
White, who is averaging 14 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, had the option to pass, but he sensed a mismatch and hung onto the ball.
“It was just one of those things where I felt like I had an advantage,” he said.
However, White is a 51 percent free-throw shooter on the season, and had missed 5-of-7 from the line on the night, so there was some concern on his end that K-State would hack him and try its chances at the line.
“I called that play to get him coming off a ball-screen,” Hoiberg said, “and he said ‘Coach, what if they foul me?’ I said ‘well step up and knock down the free throws.’ But I didn’t think they would foul him and he made a great play. Babb set the screen, we cleared out that side for Royce and he made a big shot.”
But White’s shot doesn’t happen, and all of this becomes a moot point if the Wildcats would have grabbed a defensive rebound late.
K-State had a 70-69 lead with 49 seconds remaining. But it vanished when McGruder was whistled for a foul, sending Babb to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.
Babb hit the first, but the second bounced off the rim. However, Melvin Ejim grabbed the offensive board to reset the Cyclones offense. Scott Christopherson missed a shot with 30 seconds left, but Ejim would once again get the board, this time attempting a tip-in that missed, creating chaos beneath the rim and a loose-ball situation that ended with Iowa State having possession of the ball.
“End of the day, point-blank, missed free throw — we’ve got to get a rebound and we can’t,” Martin said. “They miss three shots coming down the stretch and we can’t come up with the ball. Don’t deserve to win.”
Still, the Wildcats seemingly had control of this game. From the 7:11-mark of the first half until Babb’s free throw at the end, K-State had led. The Wildcats took a 36-29 halftime lead, and built on it by making six of their first seven shots to open the second half — a Jamar Samuels 3-pointer from the baseline gave K-State a 53-39 advantage with 14:37 left.
The Cyclones answered with a 7-0 run that was helped by three K-State turnovers. That later became a 19-7 run as Iowa State hit 7-of-9 from the floor during that stretch to get within two with 7:54 left.
Iowa State made 12-of-18 from the floor in the last 14:27 of the game to cap a second half in which it made 53.6 percent of its shots.
“We couldn’t get stops coming down the stretch,” Martin said. “They scored every time.”
The stops the Wildcats did get they struggled to finish off on the glass. Iowa State had just one offensive rebound in the first half, but collected eight in the second half.
K-State, which had made 7-of-40 from beyond the arc over its previous three games, made 7-of-12 on Tuesday. Four Wildcats scored in double figures, led by freshman Thomas Gipson, who had 13 points and seven boards. Rodney McGruder, Jamar Samuels and Martavious Irving added 11 points apiece.
This was a tough game to swallow for the Wildcats, but they aren’t panicking as they host Texas A&M on Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum. After Tuesday’s defeat, K-State could use a little home magic of its own.
“We were 1-3 a couple (weeks) ago, you didn’t see me pouting, cry and complain and claim the season is lost,” Martin said. “You’re not going to see me do it today. You’ve got to practice, you’ve got to prepare. You’ve got to play 18 (conference games). The next one is game number 10.
“We’ve got to be ready to go. We’re at home, we lost our last one at home. We’ve got to line up and go.”