BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Five weeks before the traditional ball drop that takes place in famed Times Square, Iowa State delivered a statement that has reverberated throughout the college basketball world:
The Cyclones are back.
Behind the play of three players to score in double figures, ISU ran all over No. Memphis 78-59 to claim the championship at the NIT Season Tip-Off Nov. 25 at Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn.
The 19-point win marked the largest margin of victory in ISU history over a Top 10 foe.
The win improved the Cyclones to 6-0 on the season for a team that finished 2-22 a year ago and entered the new season with a new coach and the task of rebuilding a program that had fallen on hard times in recent years.
Using wins over ranked teams is a pretty darn good building block.
It was the second win on the young season for the Cyclones over a ranked opponent. Iowa State had defeated No. 25 Xavier 82-70 two days earlier to reach the title game. ISU also owns a 60-50 win earlier this season over Oregon State, a team that reached the Elite Eight last season.
“We preach to our guys on a daily basis that their habits will carry them when they get to the game,” new ISU coach T.J. Otzelberger said after his team’s impressive performance against the Tigers. “We’ve got a group that committed to getting up early all summer, a group that comes to work with a great work ethic, a great attitude and it’s really neat to see these guys play for each other.”
That work ethic was put on full display for all to see.
Memphis, which had topped Virginia Tech 69-61 to open the tournament, scored got a basket from the left wing by Lester Quinones just 12 seconds into the championship game.
As it turned out it would be the only lead of the game for the Tigers. And the advantage lasted all of 1:57.
Gabe Kalscheur nailed a pair of free throws a short time later to tie the game at 2-2 with 17:51 to go in the opening half. Tyrese Hunter took a pass in the lane before hanging in the air while a defended flew by before scoring to give the Cyclones a 4-2 lead.
They would never trail again in the game.
Memphis did make a little 7-4 run late in the first half to tie the game at 25-25 on two more free throws from Quinones with 2:09 remaining in the half.
And once again it was Hunter that returned the lead to the Cyclones on a pair of free throws of his own with just three seconds later. ISU got five points from Kalscheur in a span of 30 seconds before the end of the half to lead 32-27 at the break.
Kalscheur continued his hot hand by scoring the first six points of the second half, including four points when he drilled a 3-pointer and was fouled on the play. His free throw pushed the OSU lead to 38-27 and Memphis would get no closer than six points the rest of the way.
Kalscheur finished with a game-high 30 points and added eight rebounds on his way to being selected as the MVP of the tournament. He also went over 1,000 points in his career in the win over the Tigers.
He was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Izaiah Brockington who scored 30 points in the win over Xavier.
The last time ISU had two different players score at least 30 points in back-to-back games was in 1988 when Jeff Grayer and Lafester Rhodes turned the trick for the Cyclones.
Tristan Enaruna and Alijaz Kunc both scored 11 points to join Kalscheur in double figures for the Cyclones. Kunc also posted a season-high seven rebounds in the win and added a career-best four assists.
Emoni Bates and Landers Nolley were the only two Memphis players to reach double figures. Bates paced the Tigers with 12 points while Nolley tallied 11 points.
A 3-pointer from Nate Johnson with 25 seconds remaining in the game was enough to give him a career-high 30 points, but more importantly, it propelled No. 25 Xavier to a 59-58 win over Virginia Tech in the third-place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Johnson, who scored 15 points in each half, finished the game with seven 3-pointers. He was the lone Musketeer to reach double figures in the contest.
Jack Nunge, who pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds, finished with nine points and Dwon Odom chipped in with eight points for Xavier which improved to 5-1 on the season with the victory. The 14 rebounds by Nunge was a new career-best. He had 11 rebounds in a game while playing at Iowa before transferring to Xavier earlier this year.
Nahiem Alleyne led a trio of Hokies in double figures with his 18 points while teammates Hunter Cattoor and Keve Auma added 13 and 12 points, respectively, for Virginia Tech. The Hokies dropped to 4-2 with the loss.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.