With 2:17 to go, No. 7 Iowa State trailed Northern Iowa by 85:83. The Cyclones had shot out the lights for three quarters, but the team’s top scorers went cold.
As junior Emily Ryan led the ball up the court, the Panther crowd roared. Iowa State was back on the ropes against Northern Iowa, and it threatened to see an unbeaten record go up in smoke.
The ball crossed halfway, and second Denae Fritz put a screen on top of the key, freeing Ryan to bury a wide-open three – Iowa State with the lead.
A critical stop at the other end gave the ball back to the Cyclones. After a cross-court pass, Ryan got the ball at the free-throw line and knocked down a middle-distance jumper. A series of stops kept the Cyclone lead up as time ran out.
The state of Iowa survives.
The tight game has not been unusual in recent years. Northern Iowa was a constant thorn in the side of the state of Iowa and was linked to the Cyclones every time the two teams played each other.
Tested in its first away game of the season, Iowa State eventually secured the win, 88-85. Although they didn’t get off scot-free, the Cyclones overcame another challenging matchup earlier in the season.
In recent years, the state of Iowa has struggled against its in-state rival. The Cyclones celebrated a one-point win at home to Northern Iowa last season. In 2019, the Panthers won the matchup 71-63.
“I think people are probably going to question your sanity when you play these games,” head coach Bill Fennelly said ahead of the matchup.
Northern Iowa has always been a well-prepared, physical opponent for the state of Iowa, and with the game taking place in Cedar Falls, the Cyclones had to do their best.
Despite some back and forth early in the first half, Iowa State started to run away with the game. The Cyclones quickly built a lead in the second and third quarters, creating a 14-point lead at 9:29 in the third.
But a sustained run from northern Iowa got the Panthers back in contention. With 4:09 to go, they took the lead and turned the momentum in their favor.
Had it not been for junior Lexi Donarski’s miraculous leap after a three-pointer or Ryan’s two clutch shots, Iowa State would have been in loss three games into the season. But instead, Iowa State managed to pull back, holding off a northern Iowa team hungry for an upset.
After a poor shooting performance against Southern, Iowa State rebounded with one of its best nights of shooting all season. The Cyclones stayed consistent behind the arc, and a powerful offensive performance helped diminish Northern Iowa’s scoring chances.
The Panthers shot the ball effectively and went off the field 32-58. To avoid an upset early in the season, Iowa State also had to pick up points.
The Cyclones shot 50%, including 15 marks from the three-point line. The performance was a huge 42.3% improvement from the field against Southern. Senior Ashley Joens also rebounded and led the team with 26 points, closely followed by senior Stephanie Soares with 23 points.
Although Iowa State shot better against Northern Iowa, there was a period in the fourth quarter when the Cyclones struggled to find a basket. The run of offensive inefficiency nearly cost Iowa State the game as Northern Iowa staged a comeback.
Fight to the end
The heated in-state matchup saw many tugs and fouls
and players falling to the ground. Northern Iowa was the most physical team Iowa State has faced to date and helped stop the Cyclones from running away with the game.
The Panthers clipped under the basket at Iowa State, accumulating 15 personal fouls in the process. While the constant fouls slowed Iowa State’s offensive rhythm, the Cyclones made up for it at the free throw line, making 11 of 13 attempts.
Unlike in previous years, the state of Iowa was able to respond to the abuse with its own physicality. Soares and Ryan each had a few blocks, and the Cyclones earned seven takeaways.
The constant pressure from Northern Iowa challenged the state of Iowa at times, but the team was able to respond. Despite being marginalized, the Cyclones came away with a hard-fought, narrow victory over their state rival.