Eyeing another deep run, Iowa State opens against Pitt

Iowa State got a later start on preparing for its first opponent in the NCAA Tournament compared to most.

The sixth-seeded Cyclones did not find out until Tuesday night that they will be facing No. 11 Pitt in the opening round of the Midwest Regional on Friday afternoon in Greensboro, N.C.

The Panthers advanced by defeating Mississippi State, 60-59, in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio.

“Our normal routine has been having two practices leading into the game,” Cyclones coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We’ll stay in that same routine and do what we need to do make sure we’re getting our guys’ bodies healed back up and fresh and feeling good before we embark on practice.”

Otzelberger acknowledged that “it’s a unique dynamic” not knowing your opponent right away, but added, “For us, it’s still far more about what we do and who we need to be.”

Iowa State (19-13) enters the tournament after an up-and-down final few weeks to the regular season.

The Cyclones lost four games in a row at the end of February before Otzelberger dismissed starting guard Caleb Grill, the team’s third-leading scorer, for “a failure to meet program expectations.”

Then came two victories against Baylor in a span of six days, the first win coming on the road and the second in the Big 12 tournament before Iowa State lost to Kansas in the semifinals.

“We’ve had a lot of great moments throughout the course of the year,” said Otzelberger, who is trying to build on the success of a trip to the Sweet 16 in his first season last year.

Meanwhile Pitt (23-11) prevailed in the final seconds against Mississippi State in a game in which both teams’ biggest lead was six points.

Nelly Cummings scored 15 points, Greg Elliott had 13, Blake Hinson added 12 and Nike Sibande, the ACC Sixth Man of the Year, provided all of the Panthers’ bench points with 11.

The Bulldogs took a 59-58 lead on Tolu Smith’s layup with 38 seconds left, but Pitt responded when Jamarius Burton, who was in foul trouble for much of the game, made a short jumper with 9.8 seconds left.

“He loves those moments,” Panthers coach Jeff Capel said of Burton, a first-team All-ACC player. “He’s done that all year.”

The Bulldogs had multiple chances to regain the lead, but missed three shots in the final seconds to preserve Pitt’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2014.

“We got a little lucky,” said Capel, the ACC Coach of the Year. “I’m so proud of these guys. They fought all year.”

The Panthers overcame a 49-28 disadvantage in rebounds by being more productive than MSU in 3-point shooting (9 of 19 compared to 6 of 23) and free-throw shooting (9 of 15 to 5 of 7).

Pitt finished third in the ACC with a 14-6 conference record before defeating Georgia Tech in its first game in the ACC Tournament then losing to Duke in the quarterfinals.

The Panthers hope to have center Federiko Federiko, who missed Tuesday’s game due to a knee injury, available on Friday.

–Field Level Media