Bill Self stood in front of the Kansas bench and watched as Iowa State made 3-pointer after 3-pointer, and then gazed up at the scoreboard and realized the Jayhawks were still in the lead.
"I thought, 'Gosh, if we could just get them to miss, we'd be in decent shape,"' he said.
The problem was that Iowa State didn't start to miss until it was too late.
Georges Niang scored 25 points before leaving with a bloody gash to his forehead in the closing minutes, and the No. 16 Cyclones held on to beat the No. 10 Jayhawks 94-83 Friday night and reach their first Big 12 tournament title game since 2000.
Relying on some hot outside shooting, Iowa State took charge in the second half, and then held on as the top-seeded Jayhawks (24-9) tried to make a late run to get back into the game.
Perry Ellis led Kansas with 30 points and Andrew Wiggins finished with 22.
"They were terrific offensively, and we never got in a rhythm defensively at all," Self said. "Obviously they played through Georges in crunch time and he came through for them."
The Jayhawks again were playing without 7-footer Joel Embiid, the league's defensive player of the year, and his rim-protecting presence was sorely missed. The freshman has a stress fracture in his back and is likely out until at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
"He's a big piece of our program. Everyone on the team has to make up for his absence," said the Jayhawks' Tarik Black. "The whole team has to take on that pressure."
DeAndre Kane had five 3-pointers and scored 20 points, and Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim added 19 points for the fourth-seeded Cyclones (25-8), who will play for just their second tournament title against the winner of Texas-Baylor on Saturday night.
The victory for Iowa State represented its first in four tries against Kansas in the Big 12 tournament, and its first over the Jayhawks in Kansas City since March 10, 1996, when the schools were still part of the Big Eight. It also allowed Iowa State to match its 2001 team for the second-most wins in school history, trailing only the 32 wins piled up by the 2000 team that won the Cyclones' only Big 12 tournament title.
"It's a great win for us, for the fact it gives us confidence we can compete with anyone in the nation," Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. "It was good to finally get one of these after struggling to close out games against Kansas the past few years."
The Sprint Center was packed to the rafters with fans eager to see whether Iowa State could finally end its five-game losing streak against the Jayhawks, or whether Kansas could burnish what it hoped would be a resume worthy of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The teams got after it right from the tip, racing up and down the floor in what amounted to a series of 94-foot wind sprints. Iowa State got the better of it early, forging a 23-16 lead, but the Jayhawks countered with a brutally efficient 20-3 charge to take control.
Things got so intense that normally placid Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg was rung up with a technical foul when Kane appeared to be hammered on the way to the basket and no foul was called.
The Jayhawks' lead was also short-lived. Kane started the comeback by converting a three-point play, Ejim and Niang went to work inside, and the Cyclones tied it 46-all in the closing minutes of the first half when Kane knocked down another shot from the corner.
Their hot perimeter shooting continued in the second half, when the Cyclones turned a 48-46 deficit into a 66-57 lead, the last points in the run on a deep ball from Naz Long.
By that point, Iowa State was 11 of 16 from the 3-point line.
The Jayhawks eventually extended their defence to the perimeter, and that's when Iowa State started going to the basket again. Niang scored four straight baskets for Iowa State during one stretch that made it 81-72, and scored on three straight trips to make it 86-74.
The lead never got a whole lot smaller, even after Niang was whacked in the face during a scrum under the basket in the closing minutes. He walked off the court with a white towel covered in blood held over his eye, pumping his fist and riling up the fans.
It turned out that he was just starting the Cyclones' celebration.
"We love competing for championships," Niang said later, a bandage over his wound. "Coach says take it one day at a time, but the Big 12 championship is one day away from us."