Iowa State students linger at Hilton Coliseum following Iowa State's Saturday upset of No. 5 Kansas. (AP)
It officially returned with a bang on Saturday afternoon, as fledgling Iowa State pushed aside No. 5 Kansas at Hilton Coliseum, 72-64. It was the program's first victory at home over a Top Five opponents since upsetting — surprise, surprise — Kansas on Jan. 14, 1995.
"I've said it all along — they're definitely an NCAA tournament team," Kansas coach Bill Self said afterwards. "Fred (Hoiberg) has done a nice job in a short amount of time, and they've got a matchup that not too many people have."
The matchup Self was referring to was sophomore forward and former McDonald's All-American Royce White, who had his signature stretch of the season at the perfect time.
Iowa State led by three at the half, but trailed by as many as six in the second stanza. Kansas was still threatening with five minutes left to play, trailing 56-53.
That was when Iowa State decided to simply feed White, and nothing more. Over the next three minutes, he took all four of the Cyclones' shot attempts, executing smooth move after smooth move underneath to connect on three layups, and he also hit two game-icing free throws with just under two minutes remaining.
White finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists — three categories in which he leads the Cyclones in on the season. This came just two weeks after he had 18 points and 17 rebounds in a nine-point loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
White is one of three key transfers leading the way for Iowa State, along with guards Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State). Given that overnight infusion of talent, many figured that Iowa State could legitimately contend for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2005 this season.
Now, at 15-6 overall and 5-3 in Big 12 play, they might not be able to get on top of the heap in the league standings by the end of the year, but the at-large tourney bid is definitely in play. The Cyclones have a golden opportunity to cement a premium postseason date over the next couple of weeks.
Out of the way is a legitimate signature win, and there's a chance to grab another head-turner on Tuesday night, when Kansas State pays a visit to Hilton, which has long been an incredibly tough place to play when the Cyclones are good and able to draw a crowd.
After that comes road games back-to-back against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, then a home date with Texas A&M, who Iowa State already beat by 24 points, on Feb. 11. Should they be able to run the table up until a Feb. 13 trip to face Baylor, they could be playing with house money.
They'll also get a shot at Baylor in their March 3 season finale, where "Hilton Magic" is again alive and well.
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