AMES — It was an up and down night for the Iowa State men’s basketball team on its way to an 84-64 win over North Dakota State on Tuesday night.
The Bison were able to hang with the nation’s No. 5 team until late in the second half, but the Cyclones used a run late to seal the deal on their 30th consecutive non-conference win at Hilton Coliseum.
There was no shortage of excitement as Iowa State introduced Matt Campbell as its new football coach during the under-eight timeout of the first half.
Then all-American Georges Niang took a tumble just a few minutes later.
That’s where I’ll kick off my five takeaways from the win over North Dakota State.
1. Niang goes down
Has there ever been a quieter moment at Hilton Coliseum than when Georges Niang went down a little more than halfway through the first half? You literally could’ve heard a pin drop, which made it possible for one fan to exclaim, “We love you Georges!”
That love was made clear by the standing ovation he got as Jameel McKay helped him limp off the floor. Another thing that became evident was how much this team really needs Niang.
When he left the game, the Bison went on a quick run to take a 30-27 lead and the Cyclones couldn’t get anything going offensively. They were stagnant and loose with the basketball.
Niang checked back in promptly led Iowa State on a 9-0 run to close the half and seal a lead going into the break, but it was clear how much ISU really needs their leader. He draws so much attention from the defense. He does so much for this squad.
Take that off the floor and the whole game changes.
2. Defensive pressure
I am a big believer in putting pressure on teams when they have the ball. The Cyclones did just that Tuesday night and they had the Bison’s backcourt flustered from the first possession.
They were consistently able to push NDSU’s guards away from the hoop, which is troubling for a team that likes to slow things down and run actions. It’s hard to start a play when your guards are being pressured back towards the half-court line.
McKay is a big reason Iowa State is able to bring pressure like that since he can clean up a lot of messes with his shot blocking. It led to eight steals Tuesday night and quite a few easy chances at the rim.
The Cyclones said before the season they wanted to be three stops better defensively than they were last season.
I think bringing the pressure can go a long ways in doing that.
3. Top of the key pick and roll
This is an action that I think is going to be very, very lucrative for Iowa State this season, especially when Monte Morris has the ball with McKay as the screener. They were in that exact position on ISU’s last basket of the first half that turned into a McKay dunk.
You are able to put a shooter in each corner, in this situation I believe it was Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long, and space the floor for the pick and roll. Coming off the pick, Morris has several options.
He can attack the rim himself if he sees an open lane, pull up for a jumper, dish to a shooter or hit McKay rolling behind him straight through the middle of the lane. McKay rolling to the front of the hoop has another plus as it puts him in perfect position to grab an offensive rebound.
Add two deadly shooters, plus wherever you put the last guy, and you have a set with a lot of options. Morris took it straight to the rack in this situation Tuesday and it rolled off the rim perfectly for a McKay tip dunk.
Watch for this throughout the rest of the season.
4. Free throw shooting
Nothing about this team that has me scratching my head more than the free throw shooting. Entering the game Tuesday, Iowa State rated 305th out of 346 Division I basketball teams in free throw percentage.
They are shooting just more than 60 percent on the season, and they shot 63 percent (7-11) on Tuesday. They are far and away the highest ranked team in the bottom 50, which also included Ohio State (335th) and BYU (336th).
It makes no sense to me how a team full of shooters can’t knock down shots from the charity stripe. A lot of times free throw shooting problems are mental. These guys don’t have bad shots so I would have to say that’s the factor at play here.
It’s still early in the season so they could obviously turn it around, but this could become an achilles heel if it isn’t addressed.
5. McKay’s rebounding
Nineteen rebounds in 35 minutes. That was Jameel McKay on Tuesday.
That’s more than one rebound every two minutes. That is good. Really, really good.
He is now averaging 11.8 rebounds per game and is on pace to become the first Cyclone to average double-digit rebounds since Dean Uthoff in 1979.
McKay is currently 10th nationally in rebounds per game and finds himself in the company of players like LSU’s Ben Simmons (15.0), UCLA’s Tony Parker (12.1) and Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste (10.7).
Those are some pretty big names.
He doesn’t sit back and wait. He is there every single time a shot goes up, ready to battle for the ball. It doesn’t matter which end of the floor they’re on, he’ll be there to mix it up.
McKay says he is going to get 20 rebounds in a game before the season ends.
I believe him.