AMES — That middle of the afternoon pick-me-up: We all have them.
Is yours a cup of coffee? Perhaps 5-Hour-Energy or Red Bull is your thing?
Whatever trips your trigger at 2:30 p.m. on a weary Wednesday, that’s what Abdel Nader is to this Iowa State basketball team.
When the Cyclones need a surge, he’s there to pick them up.
Iowa State (14-3, 4-1) desperately needed the Northern Illinois transfer’s vigor in Tuesday’s 77-71 nail biting victory over Kansas State (11-8, 4-2).
Nader’s 11 points and six rebounds were imperative but as Fred Hoiberg put it after the win, the “play of the game” came with 2:59 to play and Kansas State’s Jevon Thomas fiercely driving to the rack. With the contest tied at 69, like an angry bull out of the chute came Nader, who cleanly blocked a lay-up that proved to be as important as any play in the game.
“To go down there, it looked like they had a wide open lay-up and not only block it, but he kept it in bounds and that allowed us to come down and get an offensive possession,” Hoiberg said.
Naz Long followed the block up with two free throws as Iowa State took the lead – a lead that it would hold onto the rest of the way.
“I just knew that I had to get back,” Nader said of the play. “It was a big play. If they got one up on us right there it would have been a big momentum swing so I sprinted back and Monte kind of set me up for it by toying with Marcus (Foster).”
The emergence of a guy like Nader is one of the many reasons that this version of Iowa State basketball could be great and not just good in 2015.
Think of it this way: Nader, who is only averaging 16.5 minutes per game this season, would have started for Iowa State two years ago. Now, he’s Hoiberg’s seventh or eighth man (depending on how you look at things) and has truly saved the day in two of Iowa State’s first five Big 12 games.
His four 3-pointers in a December victory at Iowa were pivotal in launching his team’s 90-point outburst. Nader played 31 minutes that night but in Iowa State’s Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State, only saw eight.
Remember Morgantown? In a ruthless environment against a good West Virginia team, Nader came off the bench to play 26 minutes, score 19 points and snag seven boards in a two point win.
After that triumph however, Nader only saw 14 minutes of action a few nights later at Baylor. In Saturday’s win over Kansas, the junior played nine measly minutes.
Up and down. Up and down. So far this season, the talented Nader has been on a rollercoaster ride.
“We are loaded with talent,” Nader said. “Coach has talked about that all year. When we are struggling a little bit and your name is called, you always have to be ready.”
This is why Abdel Nader deserves a ton of credit.
Nader, who led Northern Illinois in scoring as a sophomore at 13.1 points per game, is a guy who undoubtedly thought that he would be a starter when he transferred to Iowa State. Some guys wouldn’t react well to being a role guy.
Nader, however, has done the opposite. He’s thrived off of it.
“The biggest thing is that you have to control what you can control,” Nader said. “You can’t control how many minutes you get but you can control what you do when you are out there. That’s the big thing that I keep in mind.”
On Tuesday, Nader was not only a burst of energy for the Cyclones but a calming influence as well. He guarded the perimeter. He handled the ball. And when it was crunch time, Hoiberg rightfully had him in the game.
“He deserved to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he was as good as anybody that we had tonight. He was really under control driving to the basket. He hit a huge three in the corner. It was a really good overall game for Abdel and a good confidence builder.”
In sports, there is depth and then there is good depth.
Depth is just there, but you don’t really ever want to use it.
Good depth? Well, that’s Abdel Nader, and that’s why this group of Cyclones is a legitimate Final Four contender.