Georges Niang walked off the floor in the closing minutes with a bloody towel pressed tightly to his forehead, pumping his fist and riling up the Iowa State fans in the Sprint Center.
Turns out he was just jumpstarting the celebration.
Niang scored 25 points before leaving with that gash above his right eye, and the No. 16 Cyclones held on down the stretch to beat No. 10 Kansas 94-83 Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City and reach their first Big 12 tournament title game since 2000.
"We love competing for championships," Niang said later, a bandage over his wound. "Coach says take it one day at a time, but the Big 12 championship is one day away from us."
DeAndre Kane had five 3-pointers and scored 20 points, and Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim added 19 points for the fourth-seeded Cyclones (25-8), who will play for just their second tournament title Saturday night against the winner of Texas-Baylor.
The victory for Iowa State represented its first in four tries against Kansas in the Big 12 tournament, and its first over the Jayhawks in Kansas City since March 10, 1996, when the schools were still part of the Big Eight. It also allowed Iowa State to match its 2001 team for the second-most wins in school history, trailing only the 32 wins piled up by the 2000 team.
Incidentally, it was that team that won the Cyclones' only Big 12 tournament title.
"It's a great win for us, for the fact it gives us confidence we can compete with anyone in the nation," Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. "It was good to finally get one of these after struggling to close out games against Kansas the past few years."
Relying on some hot outside shooting, Iowa State took charge in the second half, and then held on as the top-seeded Jayhawks (24-9) tried to make a late run to get back into the game.
Perry Ellis led Kansas with 30 points. Andrew Wiggins finished with 22.
The Jayhawks again were playing without 7-footer Joel Embiid, the league's defensive player of the year, and his rim-protecting presence was sorely missed. The freshman has a stress fracture in his back and is likely out until at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
"Joel not being in there, he could probably guard Niang better," Kansas coach Bill Self said, "but I think it was more a collection of everybody rather than just one individual."
The Sprint Center was packed to the rafters with fans eager to see whether Iowa State could finally end its five-game losing streak against the Jayhawks, or whether Kansas could burnish what it hoped would be a resume worthy of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The teams got after it right from the tip, racing up and down the floor in what amounted to a series of 94-foot wind sprints. Iowa State got the better of it early, forging a 23-16 lead, but the Jayhawks countered with a brutally efficient 20-3 charge to take control.
Things got so intense that the normally placid Hoiberg was rung up with a technical foul after Kane appeared to be hammered on the way to the basket and no foul was called.
"I used a bad word," Hoiberg said sheepishly. "I'm not going to say I didn't."
The Jayhawks' lead was also short-lived. Kane started the comeback by converting a three-point play, Ejim and Niang went to work inside, and the Cyclones tied it 46-all in the closing minutes of the first half when Kane knocked down another shot from the corner.
Their hot perimeter shooting continued in the second half, when the Cyclones turned a 48-46 deficit into a 66-57 lead, the last points in the run on a deep ball from Naz Long.
By that point, Iowa State was 11 of 16 from the 3-point line.
"We were on our heels defensively throughout the game," Ellis said. "I felt in the first half we did a lot better. In the second half, we let too many straight-line drives to the basket."
The Jayhawks eventually extended their defense to the perimeter, and that's when Iowa State started going to the basket again. Niang scored four straight baskets for Iowa State during one stretch that made it 81-72, and scored on three straight trips to make it 86-74.
The lead never got much smaller, even after Niang was whacked in the face during a scrum under the basket, prompting him to start the party for the Iowa State fans in attendance.
"We felt like we had these guys in the second half," Niang said. "We came out and threw the first punch and from there it was clear skies."
BAYLOR 86, TEXAS 69: Cory Jefferson had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Isaiah Austin dominated in the paint and seventh-seeded Baylor rolled to an 86-69 victory over Texas on Friday night and into the Big 12 tournament title game for the third time in school history.
Now, the trick is to finally win it. The Bears face No. 16 Iowa State on Saturday night.
Brady Heslip hit six 3-pointers and had 24 points for Baylor (24-10), which has already won three games in three days, and has now won 10 of its last 11 to climb from a precarious position on the NCAA tournament bubble to a firm – and rapidly improving – spot in the field.
Austin had 10 points and seven blocks for Baylor, giving him 17 swats for the tournament. That breaks the record of 11, held by Missouri's Arthur Johnson from the 2003 event.
The win over the third-seeded Longhorns (23-10) was also the 202nd for Baylor coach Scott Drew, moving him past Bill Henderson and into first place on the school's career list.
Isaiah Taylor led Texas with 16 points and seven assists. Jonathan Holmes was held to just six points on 3-for-12 shooting while dealing with foul trouble much of the night.
Baylor is the lowest-seeded team to reach the title game since 2009, when the Bears made it as the ninth seed. They lost to Missouri that year, just as they did two years ago.
The Tigers are no longer part of the conference, of course, off to the SEC. And instead, the Bears will take on the Cyclones, who beat No. 10 Kansas 94-83 earlier in the night. Baylor and Iowa State split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home.
Jefferson was hot right from the start, scoring Baylor's first nine points and helping the Bears creep to an early lead. He kept going to work inside, even against the Longhorns' big front line, and the lead eventually grew to 29-18 with about 5 minutes left in the half.
Every time Texas tried to trim into it down the stretch, Baylor countered with a bucket, and Kenny Cherry's 3-pointer in the closing seconds made it 42-27 at the break.
In fact, the only thing that didn't go right for Baylor in the first half happened when Gary Franklin chose not to try padding the lead with a court-length heave as time expired. Drew yelled at him, "What are you doing!?" Then he gave his guard a good-natured pat on the butt.
The matchup between old Southwest Conference rivals never got a whole lot more interesting in the second half. Austin kept swatting shots, Jefferson kept scoring around the rim and the Bears kept taking advantage of sloppy Texas off to build on their lead.
Franklin's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 59-39 with 11:20 remaining, prompting Texas coach Rick Barnes to call a timeout. But it didn't do a whole lot of good – even when the Longhorns defended well for 34 seconds, somebody would hit a shot with one tick left on the clock.
Texas finally slapped on a full-court press in the closing minutes, getting within 79-67 with a couple minutes left, but the Bears sealed the win at the foul line.