KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Something about the Big 12 Tournament brings out the best in Iowa State.
The fifth-seeded Cyclones raced to a big early lead against No. 17 Kansas, then leaned on some balanced scoring and enough stops down the stretch to beat the Jayhawks 78-66 on Saturday night and remain unbeaten in five championship game appearances.
Lindell Wigginton had 17 points, Marial Shayok had 15 and Michael Jacobson 14 for the Cyclones (23-11). They became the lowest-seeded team ever to win the conference tournament and improved to 2-0 against Kansas (25-9) in the finals.
Dedric Lawson had 18 points and Devon Dotson added 17 for the third-seeded Jayhawks, whose last chance to win some hardware will be the NCAA Tournament. Their run of 14 consecutive regular-season crowns ended last weekend, and they failed to defend their Big 12 Tournament title.
Meanwhile, the Cyclones made a tremendous about-face during their stay in Kansas City.
They arrived having lost five of their last six regular-season games, and looked rudderless in losses to Texas and lowly West Virginia. But beginning with a blowout of Baylor and continuing with a quarterfinal win over regular-season champ Kansas State, the Cyclones found their stride.
The Jayhawks, who are still looking for their own, were fortunate to trail 32-22 at halftime.
Lawson, who had 24 points in the semifinals, was 2 of 11 from the field. Marcus Garrett was 0 for 6 from the floor and 1 of 4 from the foul line. Quentin Grimes was 0 or 4 from beyond the arc after hitting five 3-pointers in their win over the Mountaineers on Friday night.
All told, the Jayhawks shot 27.8 percent from the field and missed all nine of their 3-point attempts in the first half. They also were just 2 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Iowa State had its own trouble on the offensive end of the floor, getting five shots swatted into the seats. But the Cyclones were effective at getting to the rim, and easy layups by Wigginton and Tyrese Haliburton allowed them to take control.
Their lead swelled to 41-24 early in the second half. And even when the Jayhawks managed to nip into it, they would inevitably miss an open layup or throw the ball away.
Or, Jacobson would knock down an unlikely 3-pointer.
That was the case when the Jayhawks trimmed the deficit to 45-35 with 14 minutes to go. Iowa State’s big man calmly drained one from the top of the arc — all Kansas coach Bill Self could do was smile in disbelief — and Steve Prohm’s squad promptly ripped off seven straight points.
Frustration eventually set in for the Jayhawks down the stretch.
After cutting their deficit to single-digits on several occasions, including 72-63 with 1:21 to go, the Cyclones kept answering. And after Grimes was called for a foul on Wigginton, Lawson spiked the ball under the basket and was whistled for a technical foul.
Shayok made the two technical foul shots, Wigginton made two more, and the chants of “Let’s Go Cyclones!” began to reverberate throughout Sprint Center in celebration of another title.
Iowa State has leaned on Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker much of the season, but Wigginton and Haliburton shined in Kansas City. Wigginton is averaging more than 15 points over his last five games while Haliburton continues to lead the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Kansas started freshman center David McCormack, but the Cyclones’ guard-oriented lineup forced the Jayhawks to match their personnel. Charlie Moore and the rest of their guards struggled shooting the ball, and they were unable to get crucial defensive stops down the stretch.
Both teams will learn their NCAA Tournament destinations Sunday.