MILWAUKEE (AP) — Iowa State turned to Tyrese Hunter at the very end, and the freshman delivered.
When it comes to Milwaukee in March, the Cyclones know exactly what to do.
Hunter scored 23 points and Iowa State shined in Milwaukee once again, using its hard-nosed defense to beat No. 6 seed LSU 59-54 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
“People say freshman this, freshman that, but at the end of the day, I’m a basketball player that’s out there with other basketball players just trying to compete and win,” said Hunter, who made two late 3-pointers to put LSU away. “I just go out there and do my thing.”
Izaiah Brockington added 19 points as the 11th-seeded Cyclones (21-12) got their first win in the NCAA tourney since 2017 — also in Milwaukee. They held the Tigers to 37% shooting and forced 19 turnovers, stopping a three-game slide.
Hunter, who grew up in nearby Racine, made six of his seven 3s in the second half, sending coach T.J. Otzelberger to one sweet victory. The 44-year-old Otzelberger grew up in Milwaukee, went to Wisconsin-Whitewater and began his coaching career at Catholic Central High School in Burlington.
Otzelberger was hired after Iowa State won just two games last season. Now the Cyclones are into the second round of the Midwest Region, where they will face the Colgate-Wisconsin winner on Sunday.
“You don’t have the type of turnaround that we have had this season if the young men in your program don’t buy in immediately, don’t work extremely hard and don’t fight through adversity,” Otzelberger said.
The Cyclones’ faith in Otzelberger is most evident on the defensive end, where they are almost always in the right spot, making life difficult for their opponent and honoring their coach’s roots.
“I wasn’t fortunate enough to be all that good of a player, so it was my only way to ever find myself on the court,” Otzelberger said.
Tari Eason scored 18 points for LSU, and senior Darius Days had 14. But they didn’t get much help.
“The guys really fought hard,” Days said. “There’s not really too much to say other than that.”
It was the first game for the Tigers (22-12) since coach Will Wade was fired last weekend amid allegations of NCAA violations. Associate head coach Bill Armstrong also was let go.
An LSU fan in the stands behind the team’s bench held up a sign that read “Win For WADE” as the game got started.
Kevin Nickleberry was elevated to interim coach, and the Tigers turned in their usual stellar effort on defense. But they struggled on the other side. The team also received a technical for having too many players on the court at one point in the second half.
“I said all week it’s just basketball, but the distractions were a lot,” Nickelberry said, “and these guys still fought through those distractions, went out and gave LSU a chance to win tonight.”
Iowa State, which shot 36% from the field, opened a 50-39 lead on Brockington’s 3 with 7:09 left. But LSU responded with an 11-1 run.
After Days’ foul shot got the Tigers within one, Hunter connected on a long 3 to give the Cyclones some room. He nailed another one from a similar spot with 19 seconds left, lifting his team to a 59-54 lead.
“Tonight happened to be Tyrese’s night,” Otzelberger said, “and the ball found him. Our guys knew he had the hot hand.”
In between all the missed shots and turnovers, each team had its moments. Hunter had an acrobatic layup early on, and then beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer for a 24-12 lead with 6:37 left in the first half.
But LSU came right back. Eric Gaines had a huge block on a driving Brockington with 4:35 left, part of a 7-0 run for the Tigers to close the first half.
The halftime numbers were bleak; Iowa State was 9 for 27 from the field, and LSU was 7 for 27 with 10 turnovers.
Hunter played for Nick Bennett at St. Catherine’s High School. Bennett is the cousin of Virginia coach Tony Bennett and the nephew of former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. Tony and Dick also were a big influence on Otzelberger’s coaching career.
LSU: The coaching search is on. Look for athletic director Scott Woodward to try for another big name after hiring football coach Brian Kelly from Notre Dame, Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey from Baylor and baseball coach Jay Johnson from Arizona.
Iowa State: It wasn’t pretty, but the Cyclones will take it. They very nearly squandered their big lead down the stretch.
Stay in touch with us anytime, anywhere.
To reach the newsroom or report a typo/correction, click HERE.
Sign up for newsletters emailed to your inbox. Select from these options: Breaking News, Evening News Headlines, Latest COVID-19 Headlines, Morning News Headlines, Special Offers