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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

In a scintillating game that showcased both programs, Iowa State edges Iowa

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Fans in Ames celebrate Iowa State's 85-82 win (USATSI)

Eight seasons have gone by since Iowa and Iowa State both made the NCAA tournament in the same year.

If Friday night's entertaining showdown between the in-state rivals is any indication, this March may mark the end of that streak.

A high-speed, evenly matched duel between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones ended with Iowa State celebrating an 85-82 home win in a game it trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half. Georges Niang scored the go-ahead basket on a reverse layup with 20 seconds left in the game, but the Cyclones still had to survive a pair of Iowa scoring opportunities to emerge with bragging rights.

With Iowa down one, point guard Mike Gesell drew a foul pushing the ball up court in transition, but the 80 percent foul shooter surprisingly missed both his attempts amid a maelstrom of noise from the Cyclones faithful. The Hawkeyes' final possession also went for naught when 48.5 percent 3-point shooter Zach McCabe had a wide-open potential game-tying look from behind the arc rim out.

Niang scored 24 points and fellow frontcourt standout Melvin Ejim had 22 to help Iowa State overcome an uncharacteristically poor 3-point shooting night and a rebound deficit of 49-35. Aaron White had 25 to lead the Hawkeyes, while Roy Devyn-Marble, Gesell and Jarrod Uthoff also tallied double figures.

The come-from-behind victory kept Iowa State unbeaten in a season that began with modest expectations since the Cyclones had to replace four of their top six scorers from last year's NCAA tournament team. The arrival of Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane and the return of frontcourt standouts Niang and Melvin Ejim helped Iowa State absorb those losses yet roll to victories over Michigan, BYU and now Iowa State.

With Iowa also ranked in the AP Top 25 and carrying a 10-1 record into the showdown, the battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy held national relevance for the first time in a more than a quarter century.

Fran McCaffery took over a moribund program from Todd Lickliter and breathed new life into it, installing a fast-paced system and recruiting a deep, talented roster capable of thriving in it. Two NIT appearances the past two seasons were signs of progress, but with Roy Devyn-Marble, Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe spearheading an offense averaging nearly 90 points per game, the time is right for Iowa to return to the NCAA tournament.

Fred Hoiberg has already been to a pair of NCAA tournaments since taking over for Greg McDermott at his alma mater four years ago. The Cyclones look well on their way to a third straight trip this season, one that could last longer than the previous two if Iowa State continues to perform as well down the stretch in close games as it has so far this season.

For a long time, the biggest basketball rivalry in Iowa wasn't relevant outside the state. As long as Hoiberg and McCaffery remain in their current jobs, however, that's unlikely to be the case very often anymore.

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