AMES, Iowa – Iowa State capped one of the saddest days in program history with a reminder of why its future looks so bright.
DeAndre Kane had 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds and No. 13 Iowa State blew past Northern Illinois, 99-63, on Tuesday night for its 12th straight win.
Melvin Ejim and Naz Long both had a team-high 17 points for the Cyclones (12-0), who rolled past the Huskies just hours after learning of the death of longtime former coach Johnny Orr.
Orr, who was 86, spent 29 years as a Division I coach, with current Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg among his many star players.
Orr won a school-record 218 games at Iowa State from 1980-94.
“This has been as hard a day as I’ve had in coaching. I talked to our guys just about what Johnny meant to the entire community, to the state, to college basketball in general,” Hoiberg said. “I told [the team], ‘Guys, I’m going to need you. This is going to be a rough one for me to get through.’ And they did that for us, and they did that for him.”
Dontel Highsmith had 19 points for Northern Illinois, (5-6), which had its two-game winning streak snapped.
Hoiberg grew up in Ames idolizing Orr and later starred for Iowa State at the tail end of Orr’s illustrious career.
The Cyclones made sure their grieving coach never had to worry about the outcome.
They did it in a way that would have made Orr proud.
Orr’s Iowa State teams were synonymous with the fast break, and the Cyclones ran the Huskies out of the gym in the first half.
Iowa State was ahead 28-10 less than 8 minutes in, and Northern Illinois never got within single digits again. The Cyclones set a season high for first-half points on an alley-oop pass from Kane to Ejim that gave them a 55-34 lead.
“I talked about, when Johnny got here, the exciting brand of basketball that he brought to Hilton Coliseum, let’s bring that back. And our guys responded. They went out and scored 55 points in the first half — and that’s Johnny Orr basketball,” Hoiberg said.
Kane could have easily posted the fifth triple-double in school history. But Hoiberg pulled him midway through the second half with the game well in hand.
“We got a chance to meet Coach Orr. He was a great guy, and we just wanted to get this win for him,” Kane said. “We wanted to start out fast, jump on those guys and get a win for Coach Orr.”
Georges Niang had 14 points and Monte Morris and Dustin Hogue had 11 each for Iowa State, which shot 58.7 percent from the field.
Tuesday night’s matchup against the lowly Huskies was supposed to be a coronation of the best non-conference run in recent memory for Iowa State.
It instead became a side note to a celebration of Orr’s career.
The Cyclones shined a single spotlight on the banner honoring Orr in the rafters. Their players entered the arena in T-shirts emblazoned with “JO” on their shoulders, and fans left flowers at the foot of a statue of Orr inside the Hilton Coliseum concourse.
A capacity crowd — which was nearly unheard of in Ames before Orr breathed life into a once-dormant program in the early 1980s — stood for a video tribute and a moment of silence before tipoff.
Orr is also the winningest coach in Michigan history, winning 209 games in Ann Arbor before leaving for Ames.
Orr’s last trip to Hilton Coliseum came last month, when he was introduced to a standing ovation before Iowa State’s game against Michigan.
“When you have that larger than life persona, you just don’t think it will ever stop. He was unbelievable that night. To come out here and do what he did, fist-pumping and doing his thing — and he wasn’t doing great. But that’s who he is. The guy is an entertainer,” Hoiberg said. “He didn’t take himself too seriously, and I wish more coaches would be like him ... he was a man of the people, and that’s why people fell in love with him.”
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