Conway, S.C., November 17, 2017 – The Iowa State Cyclones began this week concerned that they could be in for a difficult season. They will end it by playing for the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off at Myrtle Beach.
The Cyclones used 24 points from Donovan Jackson, a near triple-double from Nick Weilber-Babb (20 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists) and a surprising 17 points from sophomore Jakolby Long – who had scored only 18 in his ISU career – to defeat Tulsa 80-78. The win sends Iowa State into Sunday’s tournament championship against Boise State.
The Cyclones (2-2) lost four starters off last season’s NCAA Tournament team, then began this season by dropping their first two games, including a lackluster 74-56 home loss to Milwaukee on Monday. That prompted ISU coach Steve Prohm to declare that his team needed to play “with a nastiness and a toughness … to fight through this.”
Iowa State certainly showed plenty of toughness in the closing minutes against the Golden Hurricane (2-2). After leading by as many as 16 points midway through the second half, the Cyclones had to hold on after Tulsa cut the margin to a single point at 72-71 with 1:12 remaining.
But Long banked in a straightaway jumper with 49 seconds left, Cameron Lard had a key blocked shot, and Weiler-Babb and Jackson combined to go 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 29 seconds to secure the victory.
“This was a great win for our guys,” Prohm said. “They showed some character, because we could have wilted. It was great to have some adversity at the end where we had to execute, and they responded. That’s growth. That’s what I was really excited about.”
ISU’s turnaround this week was propelled by the move of Weiler-Babb to point guard. He had 23 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in the opening-round win over Appalachian State, and his control of the offense helped Jackson score 26 points in that game.
“Coach putting me at the point opened up a lot of opportunities for Donovan on the fast break,” Weilber-Babb said. “We’re getting a lot of easy buckets out of transition that we didn’t do in the first two games.”
Junior Etou led the Golden Hurricane with 25 points and Daquan Jeffries had 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field.
“I can’t fault our guys’ effort and the way they competed,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “There’s a lot we can take from this ballgame, and one is that every possession matters. We got down 16 because we got stagnant in the first half and didn’t give ourselves a chance offensively. But we competed hard.”
Tulsa will play Illinois State in the tournament’s third-place game at 5 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPNU, followed by Iowa State vs. Boise State for the championship at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
“Anytime you have a chance to win a championship,” Prohm said, “that’s a special moment in college basketball.”