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Basketball

Countdown: ISU trounces K-State as Senior Day looms

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 AMES — He ran the film forward, backward, hit pause, then resumed.

 Iowa State’s big man Jameel McKay spent the past 48 hours silently studying, so he’d be fully prepared for the emotional next 48 that will culminate his last game in revered and raucous Hilton Coliseum.

 What he rediscovered: “Energy and focus.” That’s 24/7. On the court and off it — and on the court Saturday against feisty Kansas State, the 6-9 re-engaged turbo mode.

 “I’m bought in,” said McKay, whose 17 rebounds in the No. 17 Cyclones’ 80-61 triumph eclipsed his total in the previous three games. “Just trying to help this team the best I can to make (its) final run. More important than me, I want Georges (Niang) to be remembered as probably the best player ever at Iowa State and I think he’ll be that if we go out with an Elite Eight, Final Four run.”

 These are bold and gracious declarations — and this from the guy who was suspended two games earlier this season and did not play a week ago because Cyclone coach Steve Prohm chose to sit him.

 All is forgiven now. 

 “Terrific,” Prohm said to describe McKay’s first double-double (14 points, 17 boards) since Jan. 6. “We need that type of effort.”

 And not just from McKay, who said he’s been misunderstood, but none of that matters now.

 “I’ve seen a lot of things written about me over the past two, three weeks, where I just don’t feel like it’s true,” McKay said. “I don’t want people to believe that. And if this is my last chance to show people that I’m not what they thought, then I’m going to do it.”

 McKay’s reemergence wasn’t anything near a solo effort. Niang scored 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Matt Thomas keyed a torrid team-wide 7-for-10 performance from the deep left corner by drilling five from there. He finished with 20 points, two off his career-high.

 "That left corner was good to me," Thomas said. 

 Oh, and the Cyclones (20-9, 9-7) shot a blazing 65.4 percent in the second half to turn a 31-30 halftime lead into destination blowout. They also scored 49 second-half points against the nation’s 14th-best team in terms of defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.

 The keys? Sharing (21 assists on 29 field goals). Ball reversal. Not settling. Better defense, too — and particularly on the glass (only four second-half offensive rebounds allowed).

 “So the biggest thing was preaching to our guys is, you got to get ball reversal,” Prohm said. “Sometimes we want to get into isolations so early. When we execute and we run offense and the ball moves side to side and then we get post touches or ball screens, we’re very, very good. And I have to do a better job of demanding that and directing that and then the players have got to continue to execute that.”

 Prohm called Saturday a “step in the right direction” when it comes to goals that extend beyond Monday’s Senior Day salute to Niang, McKay and Abdel Nader.

 He said he was especially happy for reserve guard Hallice Cooke, who shined in a conference season-high 24 minutes. The sophomore’s line: 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. He also canned 2-of-3 from deep — including the shot that began the game-sealing 9-0 run that turned a 65-59 edge into a 74-59 cushion.

 “Hallice has been through a lot this year,” Prohm said. “He’s really handled himself the last couple weeks the right way and he really maxed out on his opportunity today.”

 Now the sky again appears to demarcate the team’s limit. Whether it can remain that way is, of course, unclear, but one thing’s certain: ISU notched its program-record fifth-straight 20-win season.

 That’s beyond special — and that realization spans programs and eras. Friday, former ISU and NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels spoke to the team and his words resonated.

 “He was talking some real stuff,” Niang said. “We definitely needed to hear that. Basically just telling us that these are the best times of your life and you’ve got to sacrifice for a greater good and really do it for the guy next to you.”

 That’s McKay. That’s Nader. That’s Thomas, Cooke and everyone else.

 The clock’s ticking. The future is now.

 “As a player you never think it’s going to come to an end and then you’re finally, ‘Man, I’ve got one more game to walk through those doors and actually compete in front of the best fans in the country,’" McKay said. "You can’t take it for granted, ever.”

R

Rob Gray

administrator

Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.

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