KANSAS CITY, Missouri – Marial Shayok saw shots everywhere except the net on Friday night, and the top scorer and leading veteran of the Iowa State could have been very hesitant and frustrated.
Instead, he hit the two biggest shots of the match.
Shayok slammed a 3-pointer into the right, scored another right in front of his own bench, and then added two free throws in the final seconds to help fifth-seeded Cyclones beat No. 15 Kansas State 63-59 in the 12 big semi-finals.
"I had all the confidence in the world," said Shayok, "even though he missed several balls in the second half, I just kept my confidence." This team has my back and coaches have my back. "
Shayok finished with 21 points, Nick Weiler-Babb added 12 and the state of Iowa (22-11) qualified to play Kansas, No. 17, Saturday night. The Cyclones are 4-0 when they play for the title.
"We have had a lot of opportunities," said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. "Shayok with the big three when we all struggled to make throws – he stepped up and did those big three that changed the game."
Cartier Diarra had 15 points to lead five double-digit Wildcats (25-8), who shared the title of the regular season with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were eliminated from the tournament by West Virginia, 10th seed, in the quarter-finals on Friday night.
The Wildcats again played without All-Big 12 striker Dean Wade, who was sitting on the bench with a walking boot on his right foot. It is unclear if he will be ready for the NCAA tournament.
"We know he's a winner or goes home. You must play together at all times, "said Diarra. "I think this is the biggest step ahead, just keep that mindset and focus on who we are going to play with, without looking to the future."
Kansas State had a warm start, as opposed to its quarter-final victory over TCU, but the Cyclones and their massive contingent of fans slowly reversed the trend at the end of the first period.
It started when Sneed missed a stack for the Wildcats and Tyrese Haliburton scored a third chance basket on the other end for Iowa State. Kansas State missed 12 consecutive attempts while the Cyclones scored 21-4 to end the half-time.
Momentum quickly swung into the locker room.
The Wildcats, who had the Big 12's best defense this season, pulled back to start the second half. They concocted an 11-0 record that earned them a total of 38 points, 15 minutes from the end.
"Their teams are so difficult. They are resilient. They have the DNA of the championship, "said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm. "We talked at half-time about the reaction of these guys."
They kept the race, too, when Diarra was hit on the way to the basket and needed to be healed after his free throws. Sneed finally toppled a 3-pointer, Makol Mawien added a bucket in the painting, and Barry Brown's quick layering forced the state of Iowa to give up a timeout.
The Cyclones were still trailing 55-52 when the first three Shayok bounced off the ledge, then over the glass and passed through. Then, after Diarra missed a three at the other end, Shayok hit his third try.
Brown's offense allowed Kansas State to score 59-57 with 20.3 seconds, but Weiler-Babb responded with a pair of free throws. Shayok responded to two from Xavier Sneed of Kansas State with two more of his teammates, and a team that struggled late in the season began celebrating a trip to the finals.
"We came back to practice, working hard and fighting," said Michael Jacobson of the Cyclones. "I mean, to be honest, sometimes you have to reach the bottom and start rebuilding, and I think that's what has happened to us."
The Iowa State won despite 17 turnovers and a bad pass on the court for most of the second half. The Cyclones also won without much help from Talen sniper Horton-Tucker, who had six points on three out of 10 shots.
Kansas State could use Wade if he expects to do damage at the NCAA tournament. This is the ideal player when times are tough, and the 6-foot-10 forward could have helped stop the big Cyclone race at the end of the first half.
Iowa State will face the third-seeded Jayhawks for the title.