AMES — Who needs a starting point guard anyway?
Apparently, the Iowa State Cyclones do not. At least they didn’t on Wednesday night in a 93-77 thrashing of No. 15 West Virginia at Hilton Coliseum — the team’s first game without Nick Weiler-Babb, who is expected to miss a week (or more) with tendonitis in his left knee.
Sure, Weiler-Babb has been called Iowa State’s most important player at times this season, but that three-headed guard monster we’ve been talking about all year still has two pretty good heads in Lindell Wigginton, 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting and five assists, and Donovan Jackson, who scored a team-high 25 points, hit six 3-pointers and dished a career-high seven assists.
Both players were phenomenal while knocking down big shot after big shot, but they are not who I want to write about right now. I want to write about the guy Steve Prohm handed the keys to the Cyclones’ press break against the nation’s No. 14 adjusted defense, according to KenPom.
I want to write about Zoran Talley.
“We had him inbounding the ball all the time,” Prohm said. “His versatility was crucial tonight. I think you need a guy like that to really help in breaking their pressure. Because its constant, its relentless and you’ve got to make good decisions.”
Talley did not tear up the stat sheet, scoring seven points on 3-of-8 shooting, dishing five assists and grabbing four rebounds, but he was the steady hand against Press Virginia. Yeah, I know Bob Huggins said in his post-game presser his team did not press, but there was a lot of possessions Wednesday night when the versatile graduate transfer from Old Dominion was walking the ball down the court one-on-one with a West Virginia defender.
Heck, there were times when Iowa State’s offensive set would fall apart and it would be Talley standing with the ball between the circles while Jackson and Wigginton worked to get open.
Talley, who is averaging 20.8 minutes and 5.2 points per game this season, had essentially become a point forward in Weiler-Babb’s absence. Jackson and Wigginton were too good to say Talley was Iowa State’s most important player against the Mountaineers, but his contributions in this game cannot be overlooked.
He was put into a position he has not been in this entire season and played arguably his best game as a Cyclone.
“Credit Zoran, he’s had a tough go with the injury but he did a great job of breaking pressure,” Prohm said. “I think he made some steps forward and I think our team did from a standpoint of we played small and big tonight but they executed.”
Obviously, all of Iowa State’s success against West Virginia should not be credited to Talley. The junior guard was really good in the role he was asked to play, but this game was truly about the way the Cyclones played as a whole.
It was about the way they played as a TEAM.
There was Wigginton finding Cameron Lard for a fast break layup to extend the ‘Clones’ lead to 18 with 3:21 left. There was Wigginton finding Solomon Young for a thundering exclamation point dunk with 30 seconds left.
They were making all the right extra passes. They were getting each other involved. I’m sure some people were wondering who kidnapped the Iowa State team we saw last Saturday against Tennessee and replaced them with the Golden State Warriors.
All of this was happening while they were out-toughing one of the toughest and grittiest teams in college basketball. When this up-and-down Iowa State basketball team’s backs were as up against the wall as they have been all season, in years, really, they responded with their best all-around performance of the year.
“I think you just saw guys make more extra passes,” Prohm said. “The thing I would show more tonight is pictures of the huddle, pictures of guys coming off the court. Guys understanding the urgency from media timeout to media timeout to not look so far ahead. Let’s just try to win each media and have shorter goals throughout the game.”
I like that part about having shorter goals throughout the game. How can you max out each moment if you’re too worried about something that is minutes, days, months or years down the road?
Prohm’s motto since the day he arrived in Ames has been “win the day.” The Cyclones won the day when No. 15 West Virginia rolled into Hilton Coliseum, proving there is still some magic left in that old building on Lincoln Way.
As long as the magic lives, and as long as this play as a team mentality exists, Iowa State will have a lot more winning days ahead.