All season long, the Texas players have talked about how their experience in close games — the Longhorns had a bevy of them in non-conference play — would prepare them for tight contests later in the season.
And sure enough, when Iowa State twice clawed within four points, at the 1:10 mark and the 53-second mark, Texas had an answer. Keep in mind, close contests were hardly unique to the Longhorns … the Cyclones trailed by double-digits in four of their 14 wins this year, and had rallied from 14 down to make it a game.
FIrst, off a timeout, Texas was able to get guard Javan Felix streaking down the court for a layup. It was the Longhorns' first field goal since a Cameron Ridley layup at the 6:17 mark, and it was the last field goal the Longhorns would get in the game. Melvin Ejim dunked just nine seconds later, scoring the last of his 17 points and putting the Cyclones as close as they would get at 80-76.
Ridley made one of two free throws, then DeAndre Kane missed a jumper and Jonathan Holmes corralled the miss. He also made one-of-two before Isaiah Taylor and Holmes closed out by making two free throws apiece.
"We go into every game wanting to win, we want to compete with the best and tonight we had a chance to do that," Felix said. "We came out here and performed well and played well and just do what we know we can do. We feel like we are as good as anybody when we put our best on the floor. It's just a big thing for us to just come out and play hard and show everybody that we are going to play hard for 40 minutes."
The win was the 'Horns' first over a team ranked in the AP Top-10 since Texas traveled to Allen Fieldhouse and defeated Kansas 74-63 on Jan. 22, 2011. The last time Texas beat a top-10 team at home was on Dec. 22, 2009, when the Longhorns beat Michigan State 79-68.
And Texas did it in large part by exploiting a big size advantage over Iowa State. Holmes finished with 23 points on a wide array of shots, grabbed seven boards and blocked two shots. Ridley was also transcendent, scoring 16 on 7-of-10 shooting, snagging 11 rebounds and blocking five shots in 27 minutes. It was a tribute to how far he's come … at one point in the second half, Ridley threw in a put-back dunk on a hustle play on a fast break that had the Frank Erwin Center crowd on its feet.
"He is a beast," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said about Ridley afterward. "He is in great shape. He plays extremely hard. He was a tough matchup for us in terms of his size and strength. He hit his free throws and had some turnaround jumps tonight. He is a heck of a player."
Texas coach Rick Barnes credited the Longhorns with taking more of an inside-out approach in the second half, after a first half that finished in a 36-all tie with the Cyclones winning the rebound battle 22-12 and Holmes and Ridley combining for 14. In the second half, Texas flipped the script, grabbing 25 rebounds to Iowa State's 18 as Holmes and Ridley combined to score 25 points.
Not surprisingly, the Longhorns won the second half 50-40, with 24 points coming in the paint after just 10 in the paint in the first half.
Felix scored 17 points and dished out three assists to no turnovers, though the sophomore guard shot just 5-of-17 — including 2-for-9 from inside the arc — to get those. Taylor also didn't shoot well at 1-for-7 from the floor, but he wound up with 12 points and three assists.
Kane entered the game as one of the Big 12's best players, but he was hounded into a 3-for-12 night from the floor and he committed seven turnovers to go with his 15-point, four-assist game. Georges Niang bounced back from recent poor shooting performances to score a team-high 18 points and he also dished out six assists.
The Cyclones entered the game as a team with a traditionally thin bench, playing seven players in their previous game. But the Cyclones played 10 to try and match up with the depth and size of the Longhorns. Texas won out in the end though, giving the Cyclones (14-3) their third straight loss after starting the year on a 14-game winning streak.
Texas (14-4, 3-2) will host Kansas State (14-4, 4-1) on Tuesday. The Wildcats are 10-1 this season in Manhattan, but 4-3 away from their home gym, including a 1-1 mark in true road games.