The Hilton tiebreaker

The deciding factor in Iowa State’s thrilling basketball victory over Iowa on Friday night wasn’t necessarily an athlete, or a coach, or even a particular play.

Technically speaking, it was an inanimate object – though Cyclone fans swear it will, in fact, take on a life of its own when beckoned.

They should know. After all, they’re the ones who provide the heartbeat.

Hilton Coliseum brought the No. 23 Hawkeyes to their knees in the final minute of 17th-ranked ISU’s 85-82 escape act. Adam Woodbury missed a free throw. It got louder. Devyn Marble missed a free throw. Louder. Mike Gesell spun two foul shots in and out. Louder.

Suddenly, a seemingly insurmountable five-point deficit had disappeared for the Cyclones, who had somehow pulled through. Iowa was stunned. An impromptu – almost unplanned and definitely unexpected – celebration commenced.

Ten minutes earlier, all hope looked lost for ISU. Then the magic arrived.

Just in time.

ESPNU color commentator Reid Gettys – the point guard for Houston’s Phi Slama Jama teams with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler – was overwhelmed by the moment. After Gesell – an 80 percent free throw shooter who had to be on the verge of asking the Hawkeye bench for ear plugs – misfired for a second time at the charity stripe with the cameras literally shaking from the noise, Gettys said on the air, ”Incredible. Wow. I mean, wow. That’s as loud as I’ve heard a basketball arena in my life.”

Rarely do games of this magnitude and anticipation live up to their advanced billing, but this one had it all. Twists. Turns. Tense moments. Late drama.

Iowa State earned a victory despite missing a boatload of free throws and getting dominated on the glass. Iowa almost won against an unbeaten opponent in a raucous environment even after receiving just six total points from top reserves Gabe Olaseni, Peter Jok, Anthony Clemmons and Zach McCabe.

There are undoubtedly better days ahead for these programs. The Cyclones and Hawks are far from finished products, but the mistakes being made are correctable. Talent, for once, is not a trouble spot on either side.

I see what all the fuss is about. The excitement is understandable – the rankings, justified. Both teams have the personnel to legitimately contend not just in their respective conferences, but nationally once NCAA Tournament time rolls around.

Contenders defend their turf at critical moments in a season. Contenders also push and shove when the odds are stacked against them. The Cyclones answered the bell as the former, but we also saw Iowa shine in the role of the latter. Iowa State was the winner on the scoreboard, but both programs and the rivalry in general took a step forward on Friday.

The difference on this particular night was the venue. Lesson learned for Iowa. Lesson delivered by Iowa State. Something tells me that if the roles were reversed and these two squads had met inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, we’d be switching sides but singing the same song.

On this particular night, though, it was Hilton’s time to shine.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at