AMES — Jameel McKay took his seat on the bench with confidence.
After his second straight dunk late in last season’s home game against Baylor, the big man had earned a breather. The Cyclones led, 62-54, with 8:33 left, but what happened next made his dreads spin.
The Bears completed a mind-blowing string of seven straight 3-pointers — a sterling shooting exhibition interrupted only by an oddly-timed Scott Drew timeout. Baylor went on to win 79-70, handing ISU it’s lone 2014-15 loss at Hilton Coliseum.
“That happened so fast,” recalled McKay, who’s locked in on preventing a repeat in Saturday’s 2 p.m. matchup between the No. 13 Cyclones (12-2, 1-1) and the Bears (11-3, 1-1). “In my head I started to count that as a win and I got back in the game and we were down really quick. I didn’t realize that they hit (that many) 3s. I’ve never beat Baylor (ISU lost both meetings last season) and that’s something that I think about. I’ve played fairly well against them when we have played them, but I’ve never beat them, so that’s a lot of motivation for me, personally, and to protect the home court is big, too.”
How to do it? By sweeping the glass, for one.
Baylor ranks fourth nationally, according to kenpom.com, in offensive rebounding percentage at 42.6. In the Bears’ only three losses, they’ve failed to outrebound their opponent. Conclusion? Contain Rico Gathers (11.3 boards per game) and his teammates on the glass and a win becomes far more likely. Fail to do so and second-chance points could spell your doom.
“Our first shot defense has been pretty good,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “It’s got to be good, but now we’ve go rebound. Everybody, all five guys. Sometimes we’re leaking out. I thought last night (in a 76-69 win over Texas Tech) we leaked out some, gave up some rebounds. We’ve got to all be in there and rebound the basketball. That’s probably the number one concern. Getting back, not given them anything in transition and then finishing plays.”
Baylor — by virtue of that once-in-a-lifetime display from deep — ended the Cyclones 21-game Hilton win streak last season, so don’t expect them to be remotely intimidated by a sure-to-be raucous environment as ESPN2’s cameras roll.
The Bears’ flurry of long-range bullseyes last February finally ceased with 4:43 left, but by then they’d built a 72-66 lead. The Cyclones failed to make it even a one-possession game after that, sending another sellout crowd shuffling toward the exits in utter silence.
“I thought we were really smooth-sailing right before the eight-minute media (timeout) — or, Scott Drew called a timeout right before the eight-minute media, which I thought was bizarre,” said ISU’s Georges Niang, who scored 14 points in 23 foul-plagued minutes against Tech. “But it worked out for them."
That loss — and the confluence of events that made it possible — fuels the Cyclones. The Bears are the only current Big 12 team not named Kansas to beat ISU in Hilton since former coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season. Missouri, now in the SEC, toppled the Cyclones there in 2011-12 during league play. Kansas won in Ames the next two seasons. Last year, only Baylor left Hilton buoyed by a victory.
“We’re definitely ready to avenge that loss and get back at them this weekend,” said guard Matt Thomas, who crafted a career-best 22 point performance in Wednesday’s win over the Red Raiders.
Consider McKay avenger No. 1.
He’ll be ISU’s best option when it comes to keeping Gathers earth-bound. He’s also aware that Saturday’s tussles in the paint will sometimes feel less like basketball and more like rugby.
“That’s just a rasslin’ match, honestly,” McKay said. “That’s not even basketball down there when you play Baylor.”
So does that mean McKay may focus less on blocking shots and more on boxing out? Well … yes and no. Or yes and yes. Whatever it takes, essentially.
“The correct answer would be, ‘Yeah,’ but everyone’s been getting on me about blocking shots so I don’t know if I’ll be selective,” said McKay, who swatted away four Texas Tech shots on Wednesday. “I’m going to go out and get a lot of them. I’m going to try to contest every shot. I guess I’ve got to do both. That would make everybody happy if I do both. If I rebound and block shots.”
Sounds like a winning formula — if nothing overly bizarre again unfolds.
“It was frustrating to say the least, but you’ve got to learn from it, you’ve got to pick up your pieces and move on,’ Niang said of last season’s Baylor win at Hilton. “Obviously we’re going to get back and look at that and see what they did and see how we can exploit them in that zone and go from there.”