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No. 2 seed Iowa State uses big runs to start each half and bury South Dakota State, 82-65

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — T.J. Otzelberger was none too pleased with Iowa State's first-round draw in the NCAA Tournament, not because the coach thought his Big 12 tourney champs had done enough to warrant a No. 1 seed but because of who the Cyclones would face Thursday night.

South Dakota State, the school that gave him his big break as a college head coach, and Eric Henderson, who was his top assistant back in those days and has kept the Jackrabbits on the winning track in his place.

“Didn't like the matchup when it came out. Didn't want to play those guys,” Otzelberger admitted, shortly after the Cyclones put together big runs to start each half of an 82-65 victory. “I care about a lot of people on their side, dear friends, so yeah, there's that part of it.”

“At the same time,” Otzelberger said, “proud of our guys. They did the hard work. They worked for this opportunity.”

Milan Momcilovic looked nothing like a freshman while pouring in 19 points for the Cyclones. Tamin Lipsey had 17 with seven assists, and Keshon Gilbert finished with 15 points, helping them avenge an embarrassing first-round loss to Pittsburgh a year ago. They advanced to a second-round matchup with seventh-seeded Washington State in the East Region.

“We don't get to control who we play,” Otzelberger said. “We just need to be prepared and ready to rise to the challenge.”

South Dakota State (22-13) showed plenty of gumption after allowing Iowa State to open on a 17-3 run, cutting the deficit in half by the break. But the Cyclones blitzed the Jackrabbits to start the second half, too, going on a 14-5 run to pull away.

Zeke Mayo hit four 3s and had 19 points for South Dakota State, which has given plenty of NCAA Tournament teams scares over the years but remains winless in seven tries at March Madness. William Kyle III added 14 points and Charlie Easley finished with 11.

“I hope T.J. wins a national championship,” said Henderson, who shared a high-five and a hug with him at game's end, “and then I saw the pairings and hoped he would lose in the first round. Now, I hope he wins the national championship again.”

The Cyclones were coming off a blowout of then-No. 1 Houston in the most lopsided Big 12 title game ever, and it looked as if Gilbert — that tourney's MVP — and his teammates picked up right where they left off. The Cyclones made life miserable for South Dakota State with their relentless defense, and they kept turning every steal and loose ball into easy layups at the other end.

Or dunks. Hason Ward threw down alley-oops from three different teammates on three straight possessions on that big early run.

“The way he can get them from 12 feet, and our guys look for them, is special,” Otzelberger said.

The Jackrabbits eventually bounced back, getting their own highlight dunk in the process: Matt Mims, the lone player left from Otzelberger's tenure at South Dakota State, heaved a pass from the midcourt line that Kyle threw down to an audible gasp from the crowd.

When Mayo scored just before halftime, the Summit League champs were within 40-33 with momentum on their side.

“We fought back,” Mayo said. “We fought really hard.”

The Jackrabbits just didn't have enough.

The bigger, deeper and much faster Cyclones did exactly what they did to start the game to start the second half, putting together another run out of the locker room to rebuild their cushion. And this time, they never let off the gas the rest of the way.

Ward even threw down a fourth alley-oop dunk to put an exclamation mark on the win.

“We start fast, come out of the box, we play off our defense — we did that to start the game,” Otzelberger said. “We did that to start the second half. That's who we are. That's who we will continue to be. When we do that, we can play at a really high level.”

UP NEXT

Iowa State will be playing Washington State for the first time on Saturday. The Cougars advanced with a come-from-behind win over Drake, getting 20 points from Isaac Jones and 17 from Jaylen Wells in their 66-61 victory.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness