With just a few seconds remaining on the clock, Iowa State forward Marquis Gilstrap dribbled to his left, picked up the ball, jumped from 30 feet away, and launched a nothing-but-net desperation 3 as the buzzer sounded and the crowd went wild.
After the smoke had cleared and the women and children had been safely ushered ashore, one blogger gazed up at the scoreboard and confirmed the undeniable truth: Iowa State was still down 41-33 at the half. Total buzzkill, bro.
The eight-point deficit is the largest the Cyclones have trailed at the half all season, and it required a desperation heave even to get ISU that close. That is what happens when you shoot 42 percent on your 2s and make only one 3-pointer in 20 minutes of basketball, basketball that happens to be on the same floor as the Duke Blue Devils: you lose. This is not a mystery.
All hope is not lost for Iowa State. Quite the contrary. After digging themselves a hole in the opening minutes -- Iowa State trailed 12-2 at the 15:37 mark -- the Cyclones fought back and closed in before Duke opened an 11-point lead in the final minute of the half. The Cyclones can play with Duke. Big man Craig Brackins is a nightmare for Duke's inexperienced interior; he has five blocks already. Point guard Diante Garrett can get to the rim against Jon Scheyer and company. The Cyclone defense has decided to stay in tight on Scheyer and Kyle Singler and give Mason and Miles Plumlee as many open shots as they like.
This can work. But the Cyclones have to convert interior shots more efficiently, they have to get to the line more often (they shot just six free throws in the first half) and they have to hope Duke doesn't suddenly start pouring in shots. The Devils shot a mere 37.5 percent in the first half. Given their yearly averages, a second-half surge seems likely. And then the Clones are really in trouble.
In any case, at least the fans from Iowa brought the funny in the first half. During a free throw sequence, two men behind me were talking about Brian Zoubek. A brief recreation of that conversation:
Dude 1: "So, this Zoubek guy. Seven-foot center. Wish we had that kind of height."
Dude 2: "Zoubek? Where's he from, Minsk?"
Dude 1: "No. New Jersey."
Dude 2: "Same thing."
Hi-oh! Dude 2 will be here all night, and politely reminds you to tip your waiters and waitresses. Add that golden nugget to Cyclones fans' sarcastic cheering at their first bucket at the 16:46 mark, and the (presumably unintentionally funny) chants of "East Coast bias" at the referees -- guys, this game is in Chicago -- and I've been spending almost as much time laughing as watching basketball. Almost.