AMES — Iowa State’s confounding 94-89 home loss to Baylor on Saturday properly raised points of concern for the now-No. 17 Cyclones, but it definitely didn’t send them into hysterics.
No panic. No drop in confidence. A calm and concerted search for answers — and solutions — is well underway.
“Pump the breaks a little bit,” said ISU’s Georges Niang, who will lead his team (12-3, 1-2) into Austin, Texas for Tuesday’s big 8 p.m. matchup with the Longhorns (9-6, 1-2). "I know we have a lot of high expectations for this year and those can still be high.”
Bottom line, it’s a long season and Scott Drew’s Bears stole one at Hilton for the second straight time essentially because of two lightning-quick runs.
That’s both troubling and fixable. Monday, ISU coach Steve Prohm spotlighted a few areas for improvement moving forward. Fatigue, he conceded, could be factor in the Cyclones’ occasional second-half slip-ups, but so is shot selection.
“I told the team yesterday, I’ve just got to do a better job of trusting our bench,” said Prohm, whose team gave up a game-tying 11-0 second-half run Saturday with starters Georges Niang and Abdel Nader resting on the bench. “The problem is when you’re up 11 and you sub and it goes 11-0 — and the crazy thing in that game is it was probably an 11-0 run in a minute, maybe minute and half? And then the other (decisive 10-0) run they hit us with was another minute, minute in half? But it’s quick shots, transition offense. Quick shots, transition offense. Not that it was our subs’ fault, but it happened when they were in. You’ve just got to trust them a little bit more and you’ve got to go with your guys a little bit more and I’ve got to do a better job with that.”
One remedy: Hunting better shots and reversing the ball a bit more, especially during devastating quick-hit strikes such as those that occurred Saturday against the Bears.
“We can score so easily at times or so fast, but there’s times where you’ve got to think time and score,” Prohm said. “And I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re aware of that and not taking some quick shots, because we did (take) a lot of quick shots.”
Also important: Slowing down the pace occasionally and initiating offense later. ISU obviously thrives while playing at a fast tempo, but milking clock can be a prudent approach during crunch-time possessions.
“(Prohm) talked to me about just, in the second half just holding it, probably for about 20 seconds, so we don’t have to get back on defense so fast,” point guard Monté Morris said. “I saw we’re like top six in the country on quickest to take shot or something like that. So at Texas, if things start to get ragged with the pace, I’ll try to slow it down for at least 15, 20 seconds.”
No one characterizes infrequent slow-downs as interfering with freedom on the offensive end, either.
“Those quick shots are like live bad turnovers the way these teams in the Big 12 play — just get it and go,” Niang said. “So we have to have a conscious effort with that and I think we’ll do that going down the stretch.”
The fatigue element is tougher to fully flesh out. Niang, so far, is averaging just one more minute a game over last season. Morris is plus-two in average minutes played. Former role players- turned-starters, Matt Thomas (plus-14) and Nader (plus-13), have made big jumps in PT, but their respective 29 and 29.1 minute averages shouldn’t be difficult to maintain or even elevate slightly.
“It comes down to fatigue, but I think it’s effort, too, just knowing what you can do when you’re tired,” Morris said. “I feel like sometimes we can get to the basket (more) in the second half. I think when we take long shots in the second half they go to transition and it’s hard to stop any team in this league in transition. They’re all fast and they’ve got elite guards.”
Just like Texas, where Isaiah Taylor is averaging 16.4 points — and has shot 106 free throws.
“Everything will be back flowing if we can go steal these (next) two on the road,” Morris said. “I’m excited. We’re excited. We’re just going to play our heart out and see where the chips fall.”