Nov 11, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Matt Thomas (21) defends Savannah State Tigers guard Isaiah Felder (15) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State’s 113-71 season-opening win over Savannah State was far from normal when you look at the box score. The two teams combined for 193 possessions and hoisted up 161 shots.
Both teams were sloppy at times by combining for 42 turnovers, 20 of them belonging Iowa State.
It was not the kind of game the Cyclones (1-0) will see on a nightly basis in the Big 12. Iowa State likes to get out and run in transition, but Savannah State likes to take that tempo and turn it up three notches.
That can make for a game that’s difficult to evaluate. It makes it tough to really get a complete read on how Iowa State played — especially when the team playing that way isn’t exactly quality.
That said, anytime the Cyclones can shoot over 55 percent from the floor, hold their opponent below 35 percent and and out-score them 74-18 in the paint, you know they were doing some things right.
Here are some takeaways from Iowa State’s win over Savannah State:
1 — Creating pressure and forcing turnovers
I wrote this Friday morning and I’ve been saying it since the exhibition game on Sunday, I truly think you can see a difference in the way Iowa State defends this season. In the past, it seemed like guys were playing defense because they had to.
Now, it seems like they are starting to see defense as a way to make offense even easier. That was definitely the case on Friday with the Cyclones forcing 22 turnovers and scoring 22 points off of them.
“I think it was hit-and-miss,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said after the game. “We’re big this year on charting contested shots. We didn’t contest enough shots tonight. If you don’t contest those guys, they’re going to make them. Our defensive field goal percentage was good. I know you guys were talking possessions, there was a ton of possessions tonight, but we’ve really got to harp on, especially these next two games with the pace of play, of getting guys back to the paint, getting the ball stopped and keeping guys in front of us and then ball-screen defense.”
Prohm’s squad has shown energy and tenacity on the defensive end that we just haven’t seen in the past few seasons. Having the depth to go nine-deep (read more on that here) is, obviously, a big help, too.
Plus, the roster’s versatility allows Iowa State to switch on ball-screens or dribble handoffs, something they simply couldn’t do before with someone like Georges Niang on the floor. Almost every guy Iowa State puts on the floor is capable of guarding multiple positions — and that’s a great luxury to have in today’s basketball.
Sure, the Tigers were able to put up 71 points, but there were a ton of possessions to be had in this game. Neither team took care of the ball particularly well and they were willing to fire up shots at will.
You’re going to give up points when the opposing team puts up 76 shots, including 48 3-pointers, even if they do shoot 32.9 percent from the field. At the same time, the Tigers’ unorthodox style makes this a hard game to evaluate.
At the end of the day, Iowa State doesn’t need to be one of the best defensive teams in the country this season. They simply need to be a few possessions better to widen the room for error if there’s a night when the shots aren’t falling.
“Defense, it’s a work in progress,” Prohm said. “This a tough game to, probably, evaluate in a lot of areas, because you’re not going to see that style a lot.”
After what I saw on Friday, I’m still feeling good that the Cyclones are headed in the right direction on that end of the floor.
2 — Controlling the paint
I’m not going to pretend Savannah State was the mid-2000’s San Antonio Spurs, but Iowa State absolutely controlled the paint from beginning to end on Friday. It was the exact same thing they did in the exhibition against Sioux Falls.
The Tigers collected only eight points in the paint in the first half, and 18 points for the game, while the Cyclones were able to attack, and score in, the paint at will most of the night.
The domination down-low was helped by solid performances from the players in Iowa State’s frontcourt. Senior Merrill Holden added 12 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. Darrell Bowie scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds while freshman Solomon Young was solid in his time on the floor (more on him in a minute).
“Coach has been saying we need some bigs to step up and just take those minutes, man,” said Iowa State senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long. “Ultimately, we feel like we have a great core of guards and our bigs do a great job or working and wanting to learn, but we need to see them bring it every day and today, I thought, was a great example of that. You win games with not only guards but bigs, man, so we’re definitely going to need depth in that. We’re going to need them to rebound, play defense. Everybody knows how this Big 12 conference is, so when we go up against the heavy-hitters, we’re going to need them.”
Those three players being successful, especially offensively, is really just a bonus for Iowa State when you consider their talent at the guard positions. The more the players down-low excel, the more driving lanes will open — like they did all night on Friday.
That brings me to my next point…
3 — Monte Morris is good — really, really good.
Morris was in control of the game from start-to-finish — at least when Iowa State had the ball.
The senior from Flint, Mich. scored 21 points and dished 11 assists in just 26 minutes during the season opener. He was, unsurprisingly, efficient while shooting 9-of-11 from the floor.
Iowa State’s senior floor general is just really good at picking his spots when to attack.
He’s not going to force anything, with the shot or pass, even when he’s being asked to be the primary scorer.
“I think all great teams have great point guard play,” Prohm said. “Great guard play, obviously, but great point guard play. I looked at the stat at the end, those stat sheets they flow through your bench, and I don’t really look at them a ton, maybe if you’re losing you peek at them a little bit more, but I looked at the last one at the last media and I saw 11 assists, zero turnovers. I was like, ‘Man, that kid is something, man.’ It just always happens.”
On another note, if Morris is able to consistently knock down 3-pointers off a size-up dribble at the top of the key, which he did at least once on Friday, he’ll be unstoppable this season. A shot like that is enough to keep defenders even further off balance considering his ability to drive into the lane.
It causes a defender, and opposing teams, to make a choice. Let him shoot or let him drive. If he’s knocking down shots, neither option is very attractive for a defense.
4 — Rebounding
Rebounding has been one of Iowa State’s biggest question marks during the offseason and it is understandable why. They were solid on Friday while holding the Tigers to just 10 offensive rebounds despite the fact that they missed 51 shots.
“You look at Darrell Bowie, 10 rebounds in 16 minutes, regardless of the opponent, those are good numbers,” Prohm said. “If you can rebound one rebound every three minutes, that’s a high-level of rebounds.”
I don’t expect the Cyclones to out-rebound teams like this every night but seven guys grabbed five or more rebounds, led by Bowie and Mitrou-Long with 10. I think it is starting to become clear this will be more of a “rebound by committee” type of group rather than one or two guys being the glass-eaters down low.
5 — Solomon Young
How about the performance from the true freshman forward in his first regular season game at Hilton Coliseum? Young put up 11 points, on 5-of-6 shooting, and snagged five rebounds in just 14 minutes of play before fouling out.
He even went on a streak where he scored 11 of 13 points during a 13-0 ISU run. The consensus is that Young will have a really nice four year career for the Cyclones, but I don’t think anybody was expecting this type of game from him this early — even if it was against Savannah State.
“He’s made good strides the last two weeks, he’s made a lot of good strides the last two weeks,” Prohm said. “So much was on his plate, I think, in the beginning that now it’s starting to slow down for him a bit. We’re trying to spend more time with him, too.”
It is going to be interesting to see how Prohm handles his young big-man moving forward. If he continues to play like he did on Friday, it will be tough to keep him off the floor.
We’ll find out if he can build on it when Mount St. Mary’s visits Hilton Coliseum on Monday for a 7 p.m. tip.