Jan 20, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Keenan Evans (12) drives against Iowa State Cyclones guard Lindell Wigginton (5) during the first half at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Lindell Wigginton may lack experience, but he brims with confidence.
That helps explain how the dynamic Iowa State freshman leads the team in scoring (16 points per game), trips to the free throw line (113) and 3-point field goal percentage (44 percent).
Simply put, Wigginton’s a gamer — and his complementary swagger swells into Wednesday’s road matchup with No. 7 Texas Tech, which the Cyclones trounced, 70-52, Jan. 20 in Ames.
Wigginton served as the chief defender of Red Raiders star Keenan Evans in that triumph and likely will draw similar duty in an immensely more hostile setting.
“Really just putting defensive pressure on him,” Wigginton said of containing Evans, who scored a Big 12 season-low seven points on 2-for-12 shooting at Hilton. “I think I did a great job in the first game, so I’ve got to come out with the same mentality at their home. I’ve got to try to stop him — stop him in transition. He’s a great player.”
And he’s just the most vital cog for a Texas Tech team (19-4, 7-3) that’s tied with Kansas atop the Big 12 standings.
The Red Raiders have reeled off four straight wins after being routed in Ames — and Evans starred in each of those victories, averaging a head-turning 28 points in that successful span.
So what’s job No. 1?
Keep Evans off the free throw line, where he’s attempted 40 more than Wigginton, ISU’s runaway leader in terms of opportunities at the stripe.
“He’s been really good and we’ve got to do a great job on him,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said of Evans. “I think when you talk about Texas Tech there’s really a couple things. Keenan Evans is obviously a huge key — and they’ve got other really good players. … There’s a bunch of guys you could name, but I think the other thing is, if you look at their wins and their losses, you’ve really got to do a good job of guarding them without fouling. You know, keeping them in front, contesting shots. Keeping them out of the paint. And then just don’t put them on the free throw line. That will be a major point of emphasis for us.”
Depth ripples through the Tech program.
Ten players average 15 or more minutes per game — and each player in that top 10 has played in every game, save preseason all-Big 12 forward Zach Smith, who has been out since early January with a broken foot.
“We’ve got to be good (Monday at practice), we’ve got to be good (Tuesday) then we’ve got to go play well,” Prohm said. “Tech’s very good. We played well against them here. They haven’t lost at home obviously, 14-0 at home, so we’ve got to respond.”
That begins with limiting Evans’s impact, which Wigginton and his fellow guards did so well a little over two weeks ago.
“He’s one of those guys, who’s (in) his third year in the league, but just to see where he was as a sophomore — and he hit big shots down there his sophomore year,” said Prohm, whose Cyclones stand 12-10, 3-7. “I still remember it now, hitting a shot about half court with one second on the shot clock, or banking one in. But he’s gotten so much better and he’s got great poise, great command, great leadership and he’s made big shots and big plays for them. Texas game, made the free throws to tie it. Texas, he hit the game-winner in overtime to win it. South Carolina, he closed the game down the stretch and it wasn’t anything fancy. It was, ‘Give me the ball. I’m going to take you, I’m going to make a play.’”
Evans scored 10 of the final 13 points in the 70-63 win over the Gamecocks.
He also hit 18 of 20 free throws and scored six of the Red Raiders’ nine points in overtime against Texas — including the game-winning, contested, step-back jumper at the buzzer.
“Everybody’s got to be locked in, dialed in,” Wigginton said. “Just be focused in huddles, in film sessions, everything. We just need to be focused and locked in.”