AMES — Matt Thomas absorbed the coaching, but couldn’t resist the shot.
And that’s a good thing.
ISU’s designated off-the-bench shooter drilled a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the first half that turned a one-possession game into a 36-30 lead. The sophomore who had hit three of his previous 23 from beyond the arc didn’t think about it. Opportunity knocked and he squared up and met it.
“It was funny,” said Thomas, who scored six points to augment the No. 14 Cyclones’ 32 bench points. “Right before that, coach (Fred Hoiberg) pulled me and Abdel (Nader) over during a (Monté Morris) free throw and said, ‘After this stop, let’s get the last shot.’ Then Monté threw it up to me in transition and I was a little hesitant to shoot it because he had just said that. But it was open and I just let it go. Thankfully, it went down.”
If Thomas — who hit numerous clutch shots starting or as a reserve as a freshman last season — can shoot without thinking he may get on a roll.
Hoiberg has often raved about his picture-perfect form and in-practice performances. Saturday might have rekindled something, which could mean big things for ISU (18-6, 8-4) and its eight-man rotation.
“It was great to see him shoot,” Hoiberg said. “He missed one over on the right wing and the second time he dribbled down and took a pretty tough shot — that’s not an easy shot going down. But Matt is a good enough shooter where he can make those. Everybody on the bench was yelling, ‘Shoot it, shoot it.’ And I’m glad to see he rose up and knocked it down. Hopefully that does lead to some confidence here going on the road.”
Thomas said the bench scoring explosion — Nader had 16 and Bryce Dejean-Jones added an efficient 10 — should become less surprising and more routine as the season winds toward tournament time.
“That was all the talk in the preseason, was how deep we were going to be,” he said. “I think going forward we can continue to be deep and have a lot of production off the bench.”
Thomas added a fast-break layup and free throw to total more than four points for the third time in the past 11 games.
“Matt just needs to see it go through the rim and then he’s good,” said ISU’s top 3-point shooter, Naz Long. “Everybody on the team knows how great of a shooter he is.”
SAME QUESTIONS, SAME ANSWER
Dejean-Jones gets it. The graduate transfer senior guard came off the bench for the third straight game after starting 20 pf the previous 21, so he expects the repeated questions about how he’s handling his changed role, but always offers the same response.
Maybe there’s a good reason why he never wavers.
“I understand people want to know,” Dejean-Jones said Saturday after a 10-point, three-rebound, two-assist performance in 26 minutes. “I answer the questions as long as they come. But I’m just looking to do whatever it takes to win. That’s my main focus my last year of college. I just want to win.”
And in terms of adjustments, the Los Angeles native’s latest one pales in comparison to the original one that set him on a path to Ames, Iowa.
“I had never really been in a small town, let alone lived in one,” said Dejean-Jones, who’s scored in double figures in five of the past six games. “Coming out here was a big adjustment, but the guys on the team, they accepted me. We all get along great. It’s been a great adjustment.”
Hoiberg agrees — on both counts.
“It’s different for Bryce, coming off the bench for the first time in a long time,” Hoiberg said. “But (Saturday) he was out there, engaged, talking on the bench. It was great to see.”