Ames, Iowa The emotions of Senior Night almost got the best of Iowa State.
The No. 21 Cyclones came out tight, missed easy shots, threw the ball away and never seemed to relax. But they did just enough down the stretch to escape with a 61-52 victory over Kansas University on Tuesday night in a game that had plenty of grit and determination but little style.
Not that it mattered to Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly.
"You can write and say what you want about the game, I don't care what it looks like. It doesn't bother me one bit," Fennelly said. "It was kind of like one of those tournament games where your mentality is to win and move on and the aesthetics don't mean anything."
Erica Hallman led Kansas (12-15, 5-11 Big 12 Conference) with 15 points, and Kaylee Brown scored 13. Crystal Kemp, the team's leading scorer with a 13.5 average, was scoreless until making a turnaround shot with 10:33 left in the game and finished with nine points.
"We got good looks down the stretch," KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "We missed three layups there in the last two or three minutes. Then (Mary) Fox hit that one shot, and it really became a free-throw contest after that."
Fennelly started all his seniors, and for a while they looked like freshmen playing their first game. With 6:41 gone, the Cyclones were 1-for-7 with five turnovers and Kansas led 9-4. Kansas was milking the shot clock to control the tempo, and Iowa State couldn't get into its transition game.
The Cyclones eventually settled in and led 25-24 at halftime, then appeared on the verge of breaking it open in the second half, going on an 11-0 run to take a 40-31 lead.
But the Jayhawks didn't buckle. Five straight points by Kemp cut the lead to 44-40 and Brown's three-pointer from the right corner drew the Jayhawks to 44-43. The margin was never more than two after that until O'Neil started her free throw parade.
"Normally I'd be so mad I couldn't breathe after a game like this," Fennelly said. "But I don't care."
Fox and Katie Robinette scored 18 points apiece to lead the Cyclones (22-5, 12-4), who needed Anne O'Neil's eight straight free throws in the final two minutes to finally shake the Jayhawks, who had lost to Iowa State by 33 at home in January.
"I think we were as fired up as we always are, maybe even more," said Robinette, one of the team's five seniors. "But I know I had tears in my eyes when we ran out to warm up. I think everybody did. It's just a more emotional game."
That it was, Fennelly added.
"The emotion on the team was so thick you could cut it," he said.
Things went from emotional to tense when Kansas pulled ahead 52-51 on Taylor McIntosh's basket inside with 3:13 remaining. But Fox took a pass from O'Neil and made a 14-footer to put the Cyclones back on top, Kansas missed its last seven shots and Iowa State survived, thanks to O'Neil's cool performance at the line.
O'Neil hit two free throws with 1:52 remaining to make it 55-52, then hit six more in the final 33.3 seconds when Kansas was forced to foul. She finished with 16 points and four assists, while Robinette grabbed 10 rebounds.
"There's no doubt about it," O'Neil said. "I knew I could finish the game and make a couple of free throws."
The only non-senior who scored for the Cyclones was sophomore Megan Ronhovde, who had five points. The seniors accounted for the team's final 41 points.
"I think that's a fitting way to end our last game," Robinette said.