Jayhawks manage to get out-Jayhawked by scrappy Iowa State in Ames

Jameel McKay (center) is more or less Iowa State's version of Cliff Alexander (left).

Reese Strickland/Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

AMES, Iowa — The Jayhawks got, well … Jayhawked.

The rock went the other way, time and again.

The rafters shook.

Steals turned into dunks.

The rafters shook.

Swats turned into dunks.

The rafters shook.

Treys fell like cold rain, one after the other.

The rafters shook. Again.

Everything a Kansas basketball team does, everything a Bill Self team hangs its hat on, Fred Hoiberg’s 11th-ranked Cyclones did better.

Post defense? Iowa State racked up seven blocks; the No. 9 Jayhawks, Team Big Man, Post U, collected just three.

Transition buckets? The hosts netted 21 fast-break points; the Jayhawks had 10.


"They outplayed us," KU coach Bill Self said after his team fell in Big 12 play for the first time, 86-81, at Hilton Coliseum. "But that was the biggest difference in the game."

"I mean, we were trying to send three back," forward Perry Ellis said. "I’m not sure why we weren’t (getting back)."

"We didn’t think (that would happen)," point guard Devonte’ Graham said. "That definitely wasn’t in our game plan. We didn’t do a good job of getting back, so we weren’t really prepared (for their speed)."

Nor were they prepared for Iowa State forward Jameel McKay, another one of those magic Hoiberg transfers (this one from Marquette) who turns into the perfect puzzle piece. A 6-foot-9 closer with length and speed to burn, the Wisconsin native turned the game on its head midway through the second half.

During a stretch that started with 9:17 left in the contest and the Jayhawks down four and ended with 4:08 to go and KU down 11, the 215-pounder was three for three from the floor with a dunk, two layups, a free throw and two blocks. He accounted for seven points during a 17-10 Cyclone run capped by a Naz Long layup that pushed the cushion to 74-63.

Lookin’ good! Check out our gallery of Big 12 hoops cheerleaders.

"I think our inability to get back to a spot or talk led to easy baskets," Self mused, "that they didn’t have to earn."

McKay is a jolt and muscle off the bench, more or less Iowa State’s version of Cliff Alexander. And yet Alexander played only two minutes, total, in the second half, despite six points and six rebounds in 12 minutes in the first period. Hmm.

"I didn’t think his motor was good enough," Self explained.

Well. Alrighty then.

While the Jayhawks’ best rim protector and finisher in the post sat, McKay wound up with 11 points and three blocks in 21 minutes. Alexander and Jamari Traylor combined for six points (all Alexander) and two blocks in 29 minutes.

"He can really run," Self said of the Iowa State forward. "More than anything else, he really ran the floor and I thought he did a good job protecting the rim.

"He gives them a taller athlete. They’ve got athletes, no question; he gives them a taller athlete."

More than that, he helped to give the Jayhawks pause — on several levels. The silver linings were twofold, if small: As they did at Baylor, KU scrapped and clawed enough to make it interesting over the final 70 seconds. And Ellis (19 points) got a little of that old mojo back and was the Jayhawks’ best — and, in a reversal of form, most aggressive — offensive option early, draining his first three attempts from the floor, including a nifty dive into the lane, with seven of KU’s initial 11 points.

Of course, the Wichita native picked up his second foul roughly six-and-a-half minutes into the first period, getting caught on the wrong side of transition defense. Just like everybody else in blue.

KU turned the ball over eight times in the first 15 minutes of the tilt, finishing up with 15 giveaways. Self and Graham admitted that the famous Hilton Coliseum crowd, more rabid than usual — "Before the game, I couldn’t even hear," said Hoiberg, who played in this building and knows it as well as anyone — sped them up mentally and emotionally.

And not for the better.

"The crowd definitely had a big part in their momentum and stuff like that," said Graham, who wound up with 10 points and two steals. "It kind of messed with us a little bit."

It messed with the standings, too. There’s another first-place showdown in the Big 12 early next week in Ames, and it doesn’t involve KU at all. On Sunday morning, Kansas State (4-1 Big 12, 11-7 overall) will wake up in first place, all by itself, atop the best major-college basketball conference in the country. The Wildcats visit Ames on Tuesday night and yes, it’s early and yes, there are many, many miles before this particular party sleeps.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks would be wise to try and find themselves again. And a long, hard look at what the Cyclones did up and down their backsides Saturday night would make for a pretty good start.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.