WILLIAMS: Learned more about program than team in home opener

AMES — After doing radio from 4-6, driving 45 minutes to Ames and maneuvering through the disaster that is the Hilton Coliseum parking lot on a Cyclone game day, I finally arrived at my seat for No.7 Iowa State’s 106-64 victory over Chicago State roughly four minutes into the game.

I wasn’t ready for what I had walked into.

As a diehard basketball junkie and someone who really is “firmly entrenched” (damn Chizik ruined that phrase) to all things Cyclones, this scene actually made me somewhat emotional.

I realized that Iowa State’s fan base had transformed into something I have always dreamed it someday would be. 

On a Monday night against a bad Chicago State program that won eight games a year ago, the House that Johnny Built resembled a Big Monday, Big 12 atmosphere. 

“Cyclone Nation has come some ways,” said senior Georges Niang, who scored 11 points in the win. “There were probably 11 thousand people in there my freshman year and tonight it’s just sold out and it was like we were about to play Kansas – that’s how packed it is.” 

This has always been my ambition for Cyclone basketball and frankly, it’s a big part of what has separated Iowa State from other upper-tier programs in college hoops in the past. 

At real basketball schools with tradition like Kansas or North Carolina, every game is sold out. If a casual fan gets a chance to see the Tar-Heels play UNC-Wilmington on a Wednesday night, that’s a big deal. Tickets aren’t a dime a dozen and every contest, despite the opponent, possesses a big game feel.

Iowa State fans have always shown up and been boisterous for the big ones. 

But Chicago State on a Monday night in November? Meh. 

The Hilton Coliseum atmosphere on Monday felt like the middle of the Big 12 gauntlet.

That’s big time.

Iowa State is big time.

The game wasn’t exactly a basketball clinic. Most November non-conference matchups are not. The Cyclones let an undermanned Chicago State team stick around for a while (ISU only led 49-35 at halftime) but began the second 20 minutes on a 13-0 run.

Iowa State shot 69.7 percent from the field in the second half compared to Chicago State’s 28.1 percent.

Jameel McKay could have scored 50 had his coach and teammates wanted him to. Iowa State’s big man dunked the basketball eight times in the first half alone. McKay ended with a game-high 25 points (12-of-15 from the floor) and 11 rebounds, his sixth career double-double. 

“I thought he had it for 40 minutes,” Steve Prohm said. “That was the best I have seen him play from a focus and energy standpoint for a complete game." 

Then there’s “Mr. Second Half,” Abdel Nader. He scored Iowa State’s first eight points of the second half. It’s notable that Nader scored all 14 of his points in a season opening win against Colorado in the second 20 as well.

In a game where Iowa State out-rebounded the opposition 53-to-32, Monte Morris (14), Naz Mitrou-Long (14), Niang (11) and Hallice Cooke (10) all finished in double figures as well for the Cyclones. 

As far as the X’s and O’s go, there isn’t much to takeaway from Monday other than the Cyclones did exactly what the 7th ranked team in America is supposed to do at home against Chicago State – bury them. 

Personally though, I learned a lot about the buzz surrounding this program. 

This fan base has never been crazier.