AMES — Iowa State forward Georges Niang called it the toughest lesson to learn.
Is it overcoming close losses? Learning to mesh each season with new teammates? Not looking ahead — as in, to Friday night’s Cy-Hawk Series game at Iowa?
Turns out to be none of the above.
The toughest lesson, Niang said, hinges on the ability to resist engaging “cruise control” in a lopsided game — and Tuesday’s 73-56 win over Missouri-Kansas City provided the most recent form of evidence to back up his claim.
“I think it was us losing focus,” said Niang, who had six of his game-high seven assists while helping the No. 14 Cyclones (6-1) build a 41-20 first-half lead before a crowd of 13,902 at Hilton Coliseum. “I thought in the beginning we handled their press when it was 21-9 and then I just think we thought we could put it on cruise control and eventually get it up to like 30 or something. You can’t do that.”
To be fair, you can do it against the over-matched Kangaroos (3-7), who lost for the seventh time in nine game after upsetting Missouri 69-61 in their season opener.
But cruise control won’t cut it Friday night in Iowa City where ISU will face its first road test of the season.
“They’re tough,” Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg said of the in-state rival Hawkeyes, who entered Tuesday with a 7-2 record. “That’s the thing about that team, is how tough they are. We’re going to have to have a great mental night over there if we want to have any chance to win the game.”
Tuesday was not a great mental night for 40 minutes, but another standout performance from wing Bryce Dejean-Jones patched over the focus-based flaws “cruise control” created.
The senior transfer shot 9 of 12 from the field and scored 22 points. He’s nailed 17 of his last 20 field goal attempts — and during ISU’s mid-game lull scored the only points for his team in an eight-minute span.
“Just came out aggressive and looking to attack,” said Dejean-Jones, who soared for three dunks. “Glad we came out with a win.”
No doubt remotely existed Tuesday, but UMKC did close the first half with a 7-0 run and trailed just 48-37 with 12:19 left.
“We let them back in the game,” Dejean-Jones said. “It was kind of on both ends of the court.”
The Kangaroos forced 14 turnovers with their press — and four of them came in the final 3:04 of the first half.
“I didn’t think the press would bother us much this year, especially after what we did with Arkansas and really dismantled that press,” said Hoiberg, whose team won its 25th consecutive nonconference game at Hilton. “We were slow getting up the floor, we weren’t attacking and finally when we got back to attacking we pushed the lead back up to 20, but we had a stretch there where it just wasn’t us. We were coming down and it looked like when my twins used to play soccer and everybody kind-of ran towards the ball.”
So tough lesson learned … again?
“When were up by 20 points, 15, we know we should just gain on that lead and not let any team come back because it’s a game of runs,” said Cyclone forward Dustin Hogue, who grabbed six rebounds. “If any team gets a chance to come back then they get confidence and it becomes a tough game no matter who you play.”
Niang and Dejean-Jones continued to shine at the free throw line, combining to go 8-for-8. Niang is now shooting 92.1 percent (35 of 38) at the stripe. Dejean-Jones is at 89.7 percent (26 of 29). … Abdel Nader played his most active game as a Cyclone, notching eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. “I thought he had some really good attack plays,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he rebounded the ball well and he’s getting better defensively. Now that he’s playing with the first group in practice, you can tell that the concepts are kind of becoming habit to him now, which is good to see.” … Monte Morris dished out five assists and lost zero turnovers. He now has 41 assists and six turnovers this season.