KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Marial Shayok had watched shot after shot hit everything but net Friday night, and Iowa State’s leading scorer and veteran leader could very well have grown hesitant and frustrated.
Instead, he hit the two biggest shots of the game.
Shayok rattled in a tying 3-pointer down the stretch, swished another from right in front of his own bench, then added a couple of free throws in the closing seconds to help the fifth-seeded Cyclones beat No. 15 Kansas State 63-59 in the Big 12 semifinals.
“I had all the confidence in the world,” Shayok said, “despite missing a bunch of shots in the second half. I just kept my confidence. This team has my back and the coaches have my back.”
Shayok finished with 21 points, Nick Weiler-Babb added 12 and Iowa State (22-11) advanced to play No. 17 Kansas on Saturday night. The Cyclones are 4-0 when playing for the title.
“We had lots of chances,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “Shayok with the big 3 when we were all struggling making shots — he stepped up and made that big 3 that turned the game.”
Cartier Diarra had 15 points to lead five players in double figures for the Wildcats (25-8), who shared the regular-season title with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were bounced from the tournament by 10th-seeded West Virginia in the quarterfinals Friday night.
The Wildcats once again played without All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, who sat on the bench with a walking boot on his right foot. It remains unclear whether he’ll be ready for the NCAA Tournament.
“We know that it’s win-or-go home. You have to play together at all times,” Diarra said. “I think that’s the biggest thing moving forward, just keeping that mindset, and focusing on who we’re going to be playing against and not looking ahead.”
Kansas State got off to a hot start, unlike its quarterfinal win over TCU, but the Cyclones and their massive contingent of fans slowly turned the tide late in the first half.
It began when Sneed missed a layup for the Wildcats and Tyrese Haliburton scored a third-chance basket at the other end for Iowa State. Kansas State went on to miss 12 straight field-goal attempts while the high-flying Cyclones went on a 21-4 charge to end the half.
Momentum promptly switched in the locker room.
The Wildcats, who had the Big 12’s best defense this season, buckled down to start the second half, and they put together an 11-0 run that made it 38-all with 15 minutes to go.
“Their teams are so tough. They’re resilient. They have championship DNA,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “We talked at halftime how those guys were going to respond.”
They kept the run going, too, when Diarra was whacked on the way to the basket and needed to get treatment on the sideline after his free throws. Sneed finally knocked down a 3-pointer, Makol Mawien added a bucket in the paint, and Barry Brown’s fast-break layup forced Iowa State to call timeout.
The Cyclones still trailed 55-52 when Shayok’s first 3 bounced off the rim, then off the glass and dropped through. Then, after Diarra missed a 3 at the other end, Shayok hit his go-ahead 3.
Brown’s driving layup got Kansas State to 59-57 with 20.3 seconds left, but Weiler-Babb answered with a pair of free throws. Shayok answered two by Kansas State’s Xavier Sneed with two more of his own, and a team that struggled late in the season began celebrating a trip to the finals.
“We got back to competing in practice, just working hard and going at each other,” said the Cyclones’ Michael Jacobson. “I mean, to be honest, sometimes you have to hit rock-bottom and start building back up, and I think that’s what has happened to us.”
Iowa State won despite committing 17 turnovers and struggling from the field for most of the second half. The Cyclones also won without much help from sharpshooter Talen Horton-Tucker, who had six points on 3-for-10 shooting.
Kansas State could use Wade if it expects to do damage in the NCAA Tournament. He’s the go-to guy when times get tough, and the 6-foot-10 forward probably couldn’t have helped stop the Cyclones’ big run at the end of the first half.
Iowa State will play the third-seeded Jayhawks for the title.
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