Feb 13, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm watches game action against the Kansas Jayhawks at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — ISU coach Steve Prohm spoke at length about his team’s second half woes Monday, but struggled to fully pin down the root causes.
“Second half defense, I don’t have an explanation for it,” Prohm said during a difficult weekly news conference, which included emotionally notifying the media that senior guard Donovan Jackson’s father had passed away over the weekend.
Jackson, despite his tragic loss, is expected back for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 matchup with TCU at Hilton Coliseum. Basketball’s a huge part of his life. So is this tightly-knit Cyclones team (13-13, 4-10).
“If I’m a betting man, Donovan will be here,” Prohm said while stressing that Jackson will get as much time to mourn as he needs.
If he is back, he’ll try to help solve the defensive issues that have beset ISU all season, but especially during this difficult month of February. And his team will have to do that without forward Solomon Young, who will have surgery Tuesday to repair two tears in his left meniscus.
And they’ll also be down another top player in Nick Weiler-Babb. ISU announced late Tuesday afternoon that he will sit out the rest of the season while continuing to undergo tests on his chronically painful left knee.
“It is unfortunate for Nick and Solomon because of the hard work they have put into our program,” Prohm said in a news release. “We always want to do what is in the best interest of our players and their health is our top priority.”
It also makes ISU’s challenge Wednesday and beyond much steeper — whether in the first 20 minutes, or the last.
The second half has proven particularly troublesome thus far. In the Cyclones’ five games this month, opponents have shot 62.1 percent (at Baylor), 48.3 percent (at Texas Tech), 53.3 percent (home win over Oklahoma), 61.5 percent (home loss to Kansas), and 58.6 percent (at Kansas State).
ISU held a halftime lead — or was tied — in three of those five games, but only eked out the one win against the foundering Sooners.
“Why are we beaten off the dribble?” Prohm said. “Why are we not in help? Why are our shifts not as good? How can you give up 25 points in eight minutes in the second half, 33 in the first half (at K-State)?”
It’s not about adjustments. These confounding issues hinge on focus — or a lack of it.
“They’re going to run what they run,” Prohm said. “They’re not going into halftime and changing and gonna run five to seven different actions no one’s seen before. They reversed it to the lane (at K-State). They drove us, nobody’s in help, we didn’t have baseline rotation, they shot a layup. So I think that’s the growth that’s probably been the toughest thing, is the accountability and the internal leadership that they’ve got to have in the second half to where, ‘Hey, we’re going to be great and the defense isn’t going to dictate our offense.’”
Steve Prohm on if he’s ever been through a season with as much drama as this one. pic.twitter.com/j4IUgiaiUn
— CycloneFanatic.com (@cyclonefanatic) February 19, 2018
And vice versa.
ISU shot 50 percent from the field in a 23-point loss earlier this season against the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.
Defense. The Cyclones allowed TCU (18-9, 6-8) to convert on 60 percent of its shots, including a staggering 64.5 percent in the second half.
“Obviously, the ball screen defense,” Prohm said, in reference to slowing down the Horned Frogs. “It’s simple. You’ve gotta get back on defense. You’ve got to be great in ball screen defense. You’ve got to be great with your shifts. We’ve got to do a really, really good job in our plan with Alex Robinson and then with (Vlad) Brodziansky in ball screen defense. The one thing that TCU can do a great job of — and it’s something that we’ve kind of had trouble with — is they can really, really space you out. You can space people out, but if you don’t have to guard them because they can’t make 3s, it’s not spacing you out, it’s just putting you in spots. But they can really space you out.”
The Cyclones have been thin all season, which makes tamping down shooters in space a towering task.
Backup forward Hans Brase is expected to try to go against the Horned Frogs, but even if he does — and Jackson, as expected, plays while dealing with unspeakable grief — ISU’s depth will be thinner than it’s been all year.
“That’s just part of it,” Prohm said. “I don’t really have an explanation for it outside of we need to get guys healthy and we’ve got to be there for Donovan.”