No. 22 Cincinnati has its chances, but No. 11 Iowa State holds on
CINCINNATI — Abdel Nader had taken four shots from beyond the arc and missed them all. When he got the ball one more time with the whole game riding on it, he took the shot and made it.
Nader’s 3 with 11 seconds to go gave 11th-ranked Iowa State the lead, and No. 22 Cincinnati missed three shots in the closing seconds, allowing the Cyclones to hold on for an 81-79 victory on Tuesday night.
"You just hope it goes in," said Nader, who was the third option on the final play. "I’d been struggling a little bit from the field. It was a relief."
It was a wild finish to a game of big swings.
The Cyclones (10-1) led by 13 points early in the second half before Troy Caupain led the Bearcats back. Kevin Johnson’s 15-foot jumper gave Cincinnati (10-3) its first lead with 4:22 left.
After Caupain made one of his two free throws for a 79-78 lead with 33 seconds left, the Cyclones called a timeout and set up a play that would try to get either a 3-point shot for Matt Thomas or a close-up basket by Geores Niang, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Niang wound up with the ball but no open shot, so he passed it to the unguarded Nader, who didn’t hesitate to let it fly.
"The play didn’t work out like we thought it would," said Nader, who finished with 11 points. "You never know. You’ve always got to be prepared."
Cincinnati set up a play for Caupain to try to get inside the defense and draw a foul. He didn’t see an opening and shot a 3-pointer that was long. Gary Clark got the rebound and was short on his put-back attempt. Farad Cobb then missed a 3 at the buzzer.
"It’s a one-shot-and-done kind of game," said Caupain, who had 18 points. "It’s the kind of game you play in March, and we got a chance to play one early."
The Bearcats have lost both of their games against ranked teams, falling to crosstown rival Xavier 65-55.
Iowa State was playing its first true road game and coming off its only loss, 81-79 to Northern Iowa.
"We wanted to come out and give an effort and really make it happen, and we did," Niang said. "A lot of people doubted us after our last game, and we wanted to come in here and prove how tough we are."
The Cyclones’ balanced, quick-paced offense — five different players have scored at least 20 in a game this season — was matched against a defense that has held six opponents under 60 points. Iowa State got the better of it at the outset, running out to a 14-2 lead. Niang repeatedly drove for layups and nine points in the first 5 minutes.
Iowa State got the quick pace it wanted and led the entire half, with Cincinnati getting no closer than four points after the Cyclones’ initial spurt. The Cyclones led 45-38 at halftime — the most points Cincinnati had allowed in an opening half all season.
The Cyclones pushed the lead back to 13 points early in the second half, but Caupain hit a 3, a layup and a pair of free throws as Cincinnati cut it to 56-53. The Bearcats cut it to two points three times, but the Cyclones stayed ahead until Johnson’s jumper gave Cincinnati its first lead. Caupain’s 3-pointer pushed it to 78-74 with 2:07 left.
Cincinnati shut down Jameel McKay, who is one of three players in the Big 12 averaging a double-double with 15.3 points and 10.6 rebounds. He managed only five points — all on free throws — and three rebounds.
Iowa State: The Cyclones are 12-120 all-time against ranked opponents on the road.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats honored Danny Fortson on the court during a timeout in the first half. Fortson, who was part of Cincinnati’s prominent teams under coach Bob Huggins, was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Iowa State: The Cyclones host Coppin State on Jan. 30 before opening Big 12 play at Oklahoma on Jan. 2.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats open American Athletic Conference play by hosting Temple next Tuesday.