Dec 5, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Deonte Burton (30) dunks over the top of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks center Zach Pirog (33) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Forget the double-double challenge Iowa State coach Steve Prohm placed upon forward Deonte Burton.
There’s another stat the versatile senior could deliver on more, as well: Assists.
“That’s something that a lot of the guys have been challenging him to do, because there is no limit to that,” senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long said. “He’s so big, so fast and so crafty that he can get to any spot on the floor that he wants. If he wants to go in and score, he’s going to do that and get to the rim. But also make plays for others, so I think sky’s the limit as far as that goes. He just needs to continuously find guys like he’s been doing these past couple games and it will just only get us better.”
Sharing the ball better continues to be a focal point for the Cyclones (7-3), who welcome winless Mississippi Valley State to Hilton Coliseum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a non-conference season finale.
Burton’s not far off from the Prohm-dictated double-double average, either, sitting at 13 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
The key to elevating his productivity — and that of the Cyclones — rests upon that often illusory quality known blandly as consistency.
“I talked to him (Sunday) night for a little bit; just challenged him more to be consistent on both ends of the floor — whether that’s converting from offense to defense, or defense from offense,” Prohm said. “He had 10 rebounds, I think, the other day against Drake, but he just went 1-for-9. He just missed — to be honest, when you really look at all his shots, I thought they were all really good shots, to where he could have gone 7-for-9 really easily. So I just think for him to be consistent; consistent in his effort, consistent in his focus, finishing plays around the basket for us, and then rebounding is big, and defending his position. He’s a big key. He knows that and we’ve got to continue to challenge him.”
Mitrou-Long, who shrugged off his own shooting struggles by scoring a career-best 37 points in Saturday’s win over Drake, said Burton’s poised for another breakthrough.
“I think he just needs to stay the course,” Mitrou-Long said. “He’s been putting in the work. … His shots will fall. He was missing little easy bunnies right at the rim that he’s not going to miss down the line. He knows that, too. His spirits are positive and they have been this whole year, so come in (Tuesday) don’t be surprised if he comes out the gate like he did versus, uh, I don’t know if it was (The) Citadel, whoever it was, but he came out, shoot was 10-for-10, and that could easily happen.”
A well-rounded game seems to be right around the corner for Burton. But could more lobs — a mainstay for ISU in recent years — be coming as well?
“This is a whole new dynamic of a team,” record-setting point guard Monté Morris said. “We ain’t got Jameel (McKay) at the rim where we could just throw up a lob and get things rolling, so we’ve just got to attack the rim differently and Deonte’s the guy to play above the rim for us. He caught a couple against Drake and that’s good momentum going into this game and later in conference.”
Prohm acknowledged that ISU’s lack of a top-notch post presence impacts how the offense unfolds, but also noted how much that reality dictates that pace of play must always be brisk.
“That’s why we’ve got to play at a certain pace,” Prohm said. We’ve got to continue to flatten the defense out, we’ve got to continue to move the ball. You say the one-second rule, all the good offensive teams have it. You’ve got a half-second rule, really. You’ve got to move the ball with the pass so we have bigger driving lanes and we have more space to drive it so we’re not driving against set defenses. So I think we made great strides from that standpoint of — Matt Thomas, I think, had five assists. Naz had five assists. Monté, I think, only had four, for him, four assists, ‘Man, you only had four assists?’ But those guys, I think they made the extra pass, they ran the wing, and now we’ve just got to continue to do that because we’ve got to put pressure on the defense and really keep the floor really spaced.”
What did video of Saturday’s mostly tense, but eventually comfortable 97-80 win over Drake dredge up for Prohm?
“A lot of bad defense,” he said. “We didn’t do much (Sunday). We got in, I met with the team for a while and talked to them about a lot of different things and then we showed probably 20 minutes of film on Drake. That game, a little bit of good offense, because I thought we did share the ball, we did go to the glass, we made some shots — we missed some shots, too, around the basket, but on defense we just weren’t very good. We just weren’t. We weren’t good with our ball pressure, we weren’t good in gaps, we weren’t good in help side. Top to bottom, we just weren’t very good defensively and that can’t happen. But we spent the whole week working on offense, so we regressed a little bit in that area.”