AMES, Iowa -- He did not fear the 7-foot-1 defender in front of him. He baited him.
He maintained his dribble and gave Austin a moment to think about his next move.
Although it was still early in No. 9 Iowa State’s 87-72 whipping of No. 7 Baylor on Tuesday night at Hilton Coliseum, the Bears had already tried everything to contain Kane. They used a zone. They put Gary Franklin on him. They trapped him. They even chased him down the floor and tackled him in their effort to beat Iowa State on the road for the time in school history.
On that drive before halftime, they threw their biggest man at him. That’s all Baylor had left. But Kane’s floater sailed above Austin’s broomsticks and found the hoop.
“Coming in, I heard he was good, but I think he’s far surpassed what people might have thought about the impact he would have on his team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
In that moment, it was clear that Baylor hadn’t brought an answer for the senior point guard on its trip from Waco.
It was also obvious that Kane is the engine of an unblemished Cyclones team that might be the best squad in school history -- if the program-record 14-game winning streak is any indication -- and arguably the best team in the Big 12. But the latter might be decided on Monday when Iowa State hosts Kansas.
Kane scored 30 points, grabbed eight rebounds, recorded nine assists and collected five steals. He’s the fourth Division I player since 1997 to produce those numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“I think the stats speak for themselves,” Melvin Ejim said. “He went off.”
The Big 12 orbited around the talented underclassmen from Kansas and Oklahoma State, respectively, during the months leading up to the season.
But Kane was relatively unknown, even though he’d starred in Conference USA for three seasons at Marshall.
He was productive, but few knew it because he’d never reached the NCAA tournament.
“I just wanted to be a part of something special,” Kane said about his decision to choose Iowa State.
Kane left the Thundering Herd on uncertain terms. On the surface, it appeared that he and Marshall had parted ways on a good note. It also appeared that Marshall coach Tom Herrion had given the senior his blessing. Kane had even penned an endearing letter about the Huntington, W.V., community that was published in the local paper.
However, rumblings of trouble and hints throughout the college basketball community that Kane might come with red flags started to circulate.
That’s nothing new for Fred Hoiberg, the maestro of young men seeking second chances and fresh starts. He’s relied on Royce White, Chris Allen and other transfers throughout his time with the Cyclones.
All arrived with question marks, and all succeeded.
“If [people] thought I was a risk, they see now I’m pretty helpful to the team,” Kane said.
Signing transfers and junior college players is not a new tactic in college basketball. But Hoiberg’s gift is that he blends it all together in a short amount of time. And that’s what stood out against Baylor.
Dustin Hogue (10 rebounds) is a junior college transfer. Monte Morris (13 points, 3-for-4 from the 3-point line) is a freshman. Georges Niang (9 points, 5 assists) is a sophomore. Ejim (18 points) is a senior.
A few months ago, Hoiberg handed Kane the ball and told him to organize the pieces and create harmony despite being new.
New faces, new egos, new pressure. It’s a recipe for chaos.
But it’s the consistent template for perennial symphonies in Ames.
How does it all work and so quickly?
“I don’t know,” Hoiberg said. “I give our guys a lot of credit.”
After Tuesday’s game, Kane didn’t talk about his teammates. He talked about his brothers.
They play together.
It takes a unified team to trick a lengthy Baylor team into playing small ball. Although the combined size of Austin, Rico Gathers and Cory Jefferson presented problems for Iowa State, the Cyclones never let those big men get free. They harassed them and forced them to make shaky passes that contributed to Baylor’s 19 turnovers.
They also convinced Baylor that the 3-pointer was its only weapon. So a Bears team that entered the game ranked 293rd nationally with just 207 3-pointers attempted in its first 13 games equaled Iowa State’s 25 3-point attempts Tuesday evening. The Bears were actually better than the Cyclones from beyond the arc (44 percent to 40 percent).
But they abandoned their greatest advantage -- their size inside -- so they were outscored 47-26 in the paint.
This Iowa State team’s game-by-game strategy is anchored by a senior point guard who wanted to help, not disrupt, when he arrived.
He’s the catalyst that allows good teams to exploit the gaps in their opponent’s game plan.
Kane found the gaps against Baylor. He usually does. That’s why he embarrassed a top-10 team on national television. And that’s why he has All-American stats and a chance to guide a team into the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Yet he’s still waiting on All-America recognition.
Kane wants a slice of the spotlight. Not because he’s selfish and self-absorbed, but because he’s worked so hard and executed in anonymity for so many years.
“I just gotta give it everything I got,” Kane said. “I’ve gotta show people around the word that I can play with the elite players. I deserve to be talked about a little bit more. And I will. As long as we win, that’s all that matters to me. I came here to win. I didn’t come here for the player of the week or the newcomer of the week.”
But that praise will come if he continues to excel.
Kane is too good to stay hidden. He’s too talented to be suppressed.
“He’s a matchup nightmare out there,” Hoiberg said.
In Ames, however, he’s finally part of the dream.