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AMES, Iowa – Texas Tech had turned its season around with three straight wins in one of the toughest leagues in the country.
Even though the Red Raiders had that streak snapped at Iowa State on Saturday, they're clearly still improving under first-year coach Tubby Smith.
DeAndre Kane had 17 points with nine assists and No. 11 Iowa State beat Texas Tech 70-64 on Saturday after blowing an 18-point lead in the second half.
Georges Niang also had 17 points for the Cyclones (19-5, 7-5 Big 12), who survived an impressive rally from the Red Raiders to win for the fourth time in five games.
"We've got some veteran players. We knew that coming in. We just needed to challenge them to be tougher, both mentally and physically. We're gaining. We're getting better in those areas," Smith said.
Matt Thomas and Niang hit layups that put Iowa State ahead 67-62 with 1:27 left. Niang's wide-open dunk with 7.2 seconds sealed the win for the Cyclones, who missed 8 of 12 free throws in the second half.
Jaye Crockett had 19 of his 23 points in the second half for the Red Raiders (13-12, 5-7), who outrebounded Iowa State 40-30 but also had 13 turnovers against just 11 assists.
Texas Tech opened Big 12 play with an 11-point home loss to Iowa State last month and went on to start 2-6. The Red Raiders got turned around with three straight victories and were looking for their first four-game winning streak in the Big 12 in nine years.
Even though Tech fell short, it put one heck of a scare into the Cyclones.
The Red Raiders cut a 51-33 deficit down to 53-48 by scoring 15 points in less than three minutes — and Iowa State forwards Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue each picked up their fourth fouls with just under 10 minutes left.
Tech completed its comeback with a layup from Crockett that put them ahead 62-61 with 3:02 left. But Iowa State answered with six straight points and survived despite a terrible afternoon from the free throw line (9 for 19).
Toddrick Gotcher had 14 points and Jordan Tolbert had 10 points and nine rebounds for Texas Tech, which fueled its comeback in part by shooting 20 of 24 from the line.
"It was truly a team effort," Smith said. "Jaye and Jordan are giving us a lot. But I think also the key was our bench. I thought we were able to, by keeping a little pressure on Iowa State, that helped us get back in the game."
After allowing 102 points to West Virginia in a blowout loss on Monday, Iowa State's main directive this week was to improve its defense.
But the Red Raiders got what they wanted early on — and for key stretches in the second half as well.
Texas Tech hit half of its first 16 shots, in large part because it owned the offensive boards, and led by as many as five points.
But Monte Morris found Kane for an alley-oop dunk, and Morris maneuvered through four Red Raiders for an inside assist to Ejim. Naz Long, who had 14 points, then buried a transition 3 and Iowa State led 31-25.
Iowa State allowed just two baskets in the final 5:41 of the first half, and Niang's 3 from the corner with 19 seconds left made it 39-29.
The Cyclones opened the second half with a 12-4 run and looked set for an easy victory. Instead, the win proved to be among the toughest of the season.
"It tells me the players are now starting to believe. They're getting better. Because this is a tough place to play. It was a great effort by our kids to get back in the game," Smith said.