Feb 13, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Cameron Lard (2) reacts after scoring a basket against the Kansas Jayhawks at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — There was 2:44 left on the clock in the first half when Silvio De Sousa checked in during Kansas’ 83-77 win at Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday.
At the time, the Jayhawks held a one-point lead over Iowa State, but Mitch Lightfoot had just joined Udoka Azubuike on the bench with two fouls, forcing De Sousa, a freshman center, who would be a high school senior if he hadn’t enrolled in school early last month, onto the floor.
It was a prime opportunity for the Cyclones to take advantage of a player who has been regularly overpowered in the paint during the first month and a half of his college career. They needed to throw the ball inside to Cameron Lard, who already had nine points in the first half.
That is exactly what they did on the team’s first offensive possession after De Sousa checked in and a Devonte’ Graham jumper extended Kansas’ lead back to three. It easily resulted in the last of Lard’s five first-half field goals on 100 percent shooting and pulled Iowa State back to within one with roughly two minutes to play in the first half.
After a stop on the defensive end, the Cyclones tried to go back to the well by isolating De Sousa in a ball-screen, as they had the previous possession. Lard got post position again on the Jayhawks’ young big man after the roll, but the ball didn’t enter the post.
The possession, and Iowa State’s last legitimate shot at taking a lead ended in a missed jumper.
The Cyclones’ 6-foot-9 freshman center did not touch the ball on the block again before the halftime buzzer sounded with Iowa State trailing 39-34 despite the mismatch of facing the Jayhawks’ third center.
The team’s final possessions of the half included multiple missed contested jump shots, but zero post touches for Lard, who would go onto finish the game with 19 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.
The trend continued into the second half as Lard continued to find post position, but only received the ball down low a handful of times. Instead, Iowa State’s offense resulted in a number of contested 3-pointers and quite a few poor shots.
“Fire a contested three or shot selection or just don’t throw it in there,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said when the lack of post touches was brought up in his postgame press conference. “You know what I mean? All you can do is yell, ‘Hey, throw it in there. Throw it in there.’ We have got to throw it in there. We have got to throw it in there. Come down, change sides of the floor, reverse, reverse, throw it in there, play it out of the post. That’s how we need to play. That’s how this team needs to play.”
It is hard to argue with any of that logic from Prohm. When Iowa State built a six-point lead before the under-12 timeout of the first half, it was due in large part to the activity of Lard, and to a lesser extent Solomon Young, in the post.
The Cyclones have been at their absolute best this season when Lard is playing his best — and that is why throwing him the ball in the post is so important, especially when you consider the team’s lead guards, Lindell Wigginton and Donovan Jackson, combined to shoot 4-of-21 from the field and 2-of-13 from 3-point range against Kansas.
Hammering the ball into the paint would have been an easy way to create openings for both players as they struggled to find good uncontested looks for almost the entire game. It worked when Lard scored 18 points in wins over Texas Tech and West Virginia. It worked when he scored 19 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, nine of them offensive, in the win over Oklahoma last Saturday.
It would have worked again on Tuesday if the Cyclones had continued to throw the ball inside to Lard, who was clearly the team’s best offensive option against the Jayhawks. That is not any sort of indictment against Wigginton, Jackson, Zoran Talley (15 points on 7-of-11 shooting) or even Nick Weiler-Babb, who played well with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists in his first action after sitting out four games with knee tendonitis.
This is about throwing the ball into the post giving Iowa State the best chance to win. It gives them their best chance to create open looks from outside. It gives them their best chance to find easy looks at the rim on a night when those are a premium.
“Go inside-out and you’ll get opportunities for Lindell, Donovan and you find Zoran,” Prohm said. “Zoran didn’t play out of the offense at all today and ends up with a terrific stat-line… When you watch the tape, because I know you guys go back and rewatch it, look at how many empty possessions we had where we’re wide open in the post and we don’t throw it in there.”
Now, I want to make it clear I’m not saying this loss to the Jayhawks falls squarely on the fact that Iowa State didn’t throw the ball into the post enough. I love post play, but I don’t love it that much.
The defense was, simply, really bad at times and the Cyclones aren’t going to win very many games in which they turn the ball over 12 times. Plus, Kansas did a helluva job of knocking down shots to prevent Iowa State from stretching runs to the point of really seriously threatening the lead.
There was a lot more to this game than Iowa State not throwing the ball into the post enough. But it should validate the importance of Lard’s offensive post game to the Cyclones’ success.
When Iowa State plays well offensively, things are running through the post. Plain and simple.
“You’ve got to throw it in there,” Prohm said. “(Lard’s) shooting 60-something percent from the floor and they had a tough time guarding him.”
Kansas isn’t the first team to have a hard time guarding Cameron Lard and they certainly will not be the last.
They’ve got to throw it in there.