By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
Follow Ian on Twitter @IanWsmith3
AMES – Ring… Ring… Ring…
Wake up, Iowa State.
If the Cyclones keep playing like they did on Saturday, the Big 12 will be a season-long nightmare.
Iowa State slept-walked through a 67-65 win against Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils entered the game 1-10.
“We are not a confident team for whatever reason,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
“We are tentative. Our shoulders are tight. Our body position isn’t there. Again, it’s something that you have to way, find a way to play through tough times.”
Iowa State’s (10-3) aggravating play is making Hoiberg reach his boiling point. Even without the services of Royce White – who sat out much of the game with the flu – it looked liked the Cyclones would blow out the Delta Devils. Leading 41-23 early in the second half, Iowa State’s sloppy play allowed MSVU to catch up quickly.
When trying to explain the lackadaisical effort, Hoiberg slammed both his hands on the table to make his point.
“Instead of us buckling down, and hitting the table and getting ready to get stops, we don’t do it,” the second-year head coach said. “We stand straight up and down and guys drive right by us. It’s as frustrating a thing as I can tell you guys.”
As Iowa State’s lead dwindled in the second half, MVSU’s confidence grew. It seemed like a Delta Devils player chased down every loose ball. Paul Crosby’s jumper cut the Cyclones’ advantage to 62-57 with 1 minute, 17 seconds left to play.
MVSU made it a one possession game at 62-59 when Cor-J Cox made two free throws. Iowa State hit five free throws in the final minute to hold off the Delta Devils.
“It’s a matter of us not having that killer mentality,” Hoiberg said. “We got up 18 on them in the first half and we had a chance to bury them, a team that’s 1-10 going into this game, and we let them get back into the game.
“It’s extremely disappointing to me that we continue to allow that.”
The Cyclones allowed MVSU to shoot 43 percent after halftime and grab three more rebounds – nine offensive. For the game, Iowa State made just 34.4 percent of its shots.
What makes it particularly troubling for the Cyclones is that Big 12 play starts on Wednesday when Texas comes to town.
Is Iowa State ready?
“We’ll find out,” guard Scott Christopherson said.
Player of the game
If not for Melvin Ejim, Iowa State could have easily lost to the Delta Devils. The sophomore came off the bench to score 15 points and grab 15 rebounds. It was Ejim’s first double-double of the season, and fifth of his career.
Ejim said he likes coming off the bench.
“Coach told me he was changing it up a little bit and to kind of help me out, get me back in the groove,” he said. “It’s been beneficial. It’s been helping me out. I’ve been coming off (the bench) and bringing a little energy.”
After playing strong inside all game, Ejim drilled a huge 3-pointer late to give the Cyclones a 57-49 edge. The forward helped seal the game a little later with a pair of clutch free throws.
The bench: Royce White’s illness left a gaping hole in the Iowa State lineup. Thankfully for the Cyclones, a big performance by its bench helped secure the win.
Besides Ejim’s big night, Anthony Booker came in to score 10 points and grab five rebounds. Tyrus McGee scored eight points off the bench in the first half to push Iowa State to the lead.
“Melvin was the player of game for us,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Booker did a good job going in there and getting us some extra possessions – five offensive rebounds. I thought he did a commendable job with Royce sick today.
“Our bench definitely kept us in it today and closed it out for us.”
First half defense: While the offense struggled, the Iowa State defense more than made up for it in the first half.
After Mississippi Valley State took an 8-2 early lead, the Cyclones were stout. The Delta Devils shot just 26 percent from the floor. The more athletic Cyclones forced eight turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
The effort was short-lived though as MVSU nearly pulled off the upset after halftime.
Killer instinct: Maybe it was Royce White’s absence, but the Cyclones lacked a killer instinct on Saturday. Multiple times Iowa State seem poised to blow the Delta Devils out only to let them claw back.
“You have (killer instincts) or you don’t and right now we don’t have it,” Hoiberg said. “It’s frustrating me more than I can tell you guys."
The inconsistency is forcing Hoiberg to reevaluate his lineup just a few days before the conference season starts.
"I’m looking for five guys to go out there. Which five? I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The flu: A nasty flu bug kept Royce White off the court for much of Iowa State’s 67-65 win over the Delta Devils. The sophomore tried to play despite vomiting minutes before tipoff.
White started the game, but he never looked comfortable. He went to the locker room with trainers after the first minute of the game. White returned to the Cyclones bench, but it was clear he wasn’t himself.
White ended the game with zero points and one rebound after playing three minutes in the first half. He did not play after the break.
“He wanted to go out and give him a shot,” Hoiberg said. “I commend him for that. You could tell in the first minute that he didn’t have it.”
Free throws: You know it’s going bad when you can’t even make the gimmes. The Cyclones struggled to make free throws on Saturday, connecting on just 15-of-26 attempts from the stripe.
“I don’t know if it shows lack of focus or what it is,” Hoiberg said. “We go out there and we can’t make one in the first half. Those are free points. You have to step up there and knock them down.”