Dec 5, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Deonte Burton (30) shoots a jump shot against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — The difference was clear from the second Deonte Burton’s jumper went through the net on Iowa State’s first possession on Monday. Before the bucket coming off a Matt Thomas assist, the Cyclones had moved the ball from side-to-side.
They had made the defense work before getting an open shot. This didn’t look like the same stagnant offense that had struggled to score during last week’s loss to Cincinnati.
The same could be said about the Cyclones’ second possession — then their third and fourth. Each trip down the floor ended in a bucket by Burton. Each trip down the floor included an assist.
Obviously, Iowa State didn’t assist on every basket in the 91-47 win over Omaha at Hilton Coliseum. But, they did pass out 22 dimes on 33 made shots, proving that — contrary to the beliefs of some — Steve Prohm’s squad hasn’t forgotten how to share the basketball.
“Offensively, I just thought the ball went side-to-side,” Prohm said. “Guys cut, guys moved. The ball didn’t stick as much tonight and then we made some shots tonight. 15-for-29 from three and that is the strength of our team when you look at our team.”
Burton, who scored a team-high 20 points, put Iowa State’s first 13 points on the scoreboard during a 13-3 run spanning the first three-plus minutes of the game. He was attacking downhill towards the rim all night long, rather than settling for tough, contested jump-shots.
The Cyclones’ shot-selection as a team was noticeably better throughout the game. They shot 50.8 percent from the floor and 51.7 percent from behind-the-arc. Gone was the your-turn, my-turn offense I wrote about after the loss to Cincinnati.
This looked like the explosive Iowa State offense we hyped up during the offseason — even if it was against an overmatched opponent.
“In practice, we move the ball a lot,” junior point guard Donovan Jackson, who scored 15 points and knocked down five 3-pointers, said. “That’s how our offense is really good. If we keep doing that, we’re going to be really good. These past few games I don’t think we’ve been moving the ball just as well as we could. As we keep moving forward, and we’re passing the ball, I think it’s going to be really good.”
On the other end of the court, the Cyclones’ defensive improvement continued to show. Omaha — who put up 98 points in a win over Iowa on Saturday — shot just 28.4 percent from the floor and 22.7 percent from 3-point range. Iowa State forced 19 turnovers.
One stat you could point at as troublesome is the Mavericks’ 18 offensive rebounds. It didn’t come back to hurt Iowa State in this game, but we saw last week how those second chances can impact the game.
At the end of the day, the Cyclones held a team that’s averaged 80-plus points during their first eight games to just 47 on Monday.
“We have had some good defensive halves,” Prohm said. “I think we’ve had four halves where we kept people under 25 points. We have six or seven halves we’ve held people under 40 percent defensive field goal percentage so hopefully that can travel on the road with us Thursday night.”
Oh, yes, Thursday night. That’s when the Cyclones will head East to take on the rival Hawkeyes — who soundly beat Stetson on Monday.
Sure, Iowa has struggled at times during the first month of the season — including the game against Omaha. That said, anything can happen when you’re talking about rivalry games.
If Monday was any indication, it will be a focused Iowa State team heading into Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Is Naz getting back on track?
The struggles of Naz Mitrou-Long have been one of the biggest talking points surrounding Iowa State basketball over the past couple weeks. The Cyclones’ team-leader entered Monday’s game shooting just 26.5 percent from behind-the-arc this season.
He missed his first four shots from deep on Monday — after going 0-for-5 from three against Cincinnati — but knocked down a 3-pointer late to lead some people to ask this question.
Is Naz starting to find himself again?
“Those numbers are what they are right now and they’re not me by any means,” Mitrou-Long, who scored 11 points in the win, said. “That is what I’m doing right now, but if I don’t show up in the big games when they matter, that’s when it’s going to eat at me. I’m not going to really worry about it. I’m going to continue just to get in the gym and do what I got to do. It was nice to see one go down, I can’t lie about that, but I’m just going to keep pushing and staying in the gym.”
Solomon Young returns after missing four games
Freshman forward Solomon Young made his return to the court after a hand injury sidelined him for four games. He scored six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes despite the fact that he’s seen minimal practice time since suffering the injury in Iowa State’s win over The Citadel.
Now, the key will be for Young to get back up to speed with the Cyclones’ schemes before they reach Big 12 play — and the meat of their schedule.
“I didn’t know if he was ready to play against Cincinnati,” Prohm said. “Obviously, we could’ve used him. You can see his size and he gets his hand on some balls around the rim. He just hadn’t practiced in so long and as a freshman just knowing everything that we’re doing, I thought his activity level was good, but when I’m critiquing it, I’m looking at everything. Even in ball-screen defense, we’ve got to get him back out there and get his reps so he’s up to speed, but he was good for the first day back. I wanted to get him in tonight in case we need him Thursday. We’ve got confidence to throw him in there.”