It is easy to take things for granted. We all want more, more, more without stopping to realize that the current situation can be pretty special.
When Iowa State hosts Texas Tech on Wednesday night, the Cyclones will step on the floor for what seems like an ordinary conference game at Hilton Coliseum. Nothing to get overly excited about. (Although Texas Tech at 11-1 is much improved, coming off an impressive win over Texas on Saturday.)
But, let’s not kid ourselves, the jersey still says Texas Tech and the Red Raiders haven’t made an NCAA tournament since 2007 back when Robert Montgomery Knight and his black sweater were at the helm and Soulja Boy was Cranking That. Yes in 2007, Tech waltzed into Hilton and beat Iowa State on Jiri Hubalek’s senior night, which wasn’t all that memorable as senior nights go. That year Iowa State lost five games at home, some in humiliating fashion. There was very little magic in the Greg McDermott era.
Texas Tech also stuck it to Fred Hoiberg at Hilton in the Mayor’s first year in Ames in 2010-11. Some guy named Mike Singletary (no, not that one) had 33 points. Iowa State lost six games at Hilton that season. But losing conference home games had become strangely familiar by that point.
From 2005-2011, Iowa State was a staggeringly awful 21-27 in Big 12 games at Hilton Coliseum.
Opponent after opponent strolled into Hilton Coliseum, ate all the Clone cones, took a handful of cinnamon roasted nuts and left everyone depressed on the frigid drive back down I-35. Hilton Magic became nothing more than a distant memory, similar to telling a current teenage fan of Stephen Curry that Kobe Bryant was once the best player in the world. That old guy? Yeah, he was once cool too.
The house that Johnny built into one of college basketball’s most feared destinations had become a casual rest stop.
It stands to reason Iowa State didn’t make a post-season tournament in that time-span from 2006-2011.
Thankfully, thanks to the Mayor and his eclectic band of talented wing-men, supernatural life would soon return to the structure on University and Lincoln.
I remember the date and game like it was yesterday: January 11, 2012. Upstart and unranked Iowa State, chock full of all the transfers, hosted top-ten Missouri in a Big 12 bonanza. The nation was just beginning to hear of this giant point forward named Royce White. Yet, despite the top ten opponent and Iowa State on the verge of relevance, Hilton still had 1,500 empty seats on this cold night.
The first half was a boxing match, haymaker after haymaker, Iowa State proving it belonged back on the prime time stage with the big boys. As the first-half buzzer expired, the Cyclones’ Scott Christopherson lit up Hilton by burying a half-court shot to give ISU a two-point lead. Hilton roared for two minutes strong. For the first time in what seemed like a decade, the goosebumps returned in waves. The old days were back.
The second half was a Big 8 era tussle with big shot after big shot and the crowd hanging on every basket and bad whistle. The outside world was meaningless, time stood still at Hilton. All that was missing was an old-timer bellowing, “Sit down Norm!”
The Tigers ended up making all the plays down the stretch and held on for a seven-point win, giving Iowa State their second home loss of the year. But this one felt different. The tide had turned.
Since that January, 2012 night, Iowa State is 60-3 at Hilton Coliseum. And a remarkable 31-3 in Big 12 games. Whoa.
The only 3 losses:
1. The 2013 Kansas block/charge debacle.
2. The 2014 Kansas Wiggins/Embiid NBA highlight reel evening.
3. The 2015 Baylor goes nutty from three-point territory stunner.
Iowa State has had just as many 15-point second half comebacks at Hilton (2014 Oklahoma State, 2015 Oklahoma, 2015 Iowa) in the last two years than total losses at home over the last four years.
Now when you walk up the cement staircase and enter the glass doors, you have the feeling everything is going to end well and something magical is about to happen. Twenty point deficits be damned.
In an era where college basketball arenas are struggling to attract fans, student sections are empty and players play in front of cavernous buildings with no crowds, Hilton Coliseum is a throw-back and better than ever. On Wednesday night, Hilton will have its 40th sell-out over the last four years.
When you next enter Hilton and find your seat, take a minute and look up at the rafters. The house that Johnny built and The Mayor revitalized is in the midst of its finest era. There is no reason to take that for granted.
Hilton Magic is some kind of special.