Jan 31, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; West Virginia University Mountaineer guard James Bolden (3) handles the ball while defended by Iowa State University Cyclone guard Donovan Jackson (4) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Rachel Mummey-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State senior guard Donovan Jackson said his team’s blowout home loss last Saturday to Tennessee “tested our manhood.”
They defended that vigorously Wednesday against No. 15 West Virginia, manhandling the Mountaineers 93-67 at Hilton Coliseum.
But this weekend, Baylor’s length and sometimes stifling zone defense will test the Cyclones’ patience.
So many crucibles. So many shots at redemption. So many head scratchers for off-and-on ISU (12-9, 3-6), which will try to complete a regular season sweep of the Bears (12-10, 2-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) in Waco.
“We can’t let wins and losses or makes and misses define who we are,” said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm, whose team seeks to record back-to-back wins in Big 12 play for the first time this season. “We just have to know — it’s kind of like what (West Virginia) coach (Bob) Huggins was saying last night. He was frustrated about effort and competing. That’s all you want and then you’ve got to live with the result from that if you do all the other things right.”
Baylor, like ISU, can point to plenty of near-misses in this head shake-inducing season that’s landed it in a rare spot: the conference basement.
A handful of failed possessions have forced the Bears into desperation mode.
Five of their seven conference losses have come by a combined 18 points. They’ve lost four games by three points or fewer.
Sound vaguely familiar?
“Just like everybody in our league, we could all make the case to be 5-4, 8-1,” said Prohm, whose team has lost two league games in overtime and held late leads in two other setbacks. “It’s possession games for the most part and you’ve got to be able to finish. We’ve got to go there and play well. It’s a great opportunity for us to see if we can grow up on the road a little bit.”
The Cyclones haven’t won a road game all season, but they’ve also posted two of the four most dominant wins in program history over top-15 teams — with both coming in the past two weeks.
So the ceiling is high, but the cellar can be low.
“We just can’t get down on ourselves and we can’t get down early,” said forward Zoran Talley, who scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out five assists in his first start as a Cyclone. “If we’re losing in a game we have to just stay positive. Basketball’s a game full of runs so you know anything can happen.”
Even a conference winning streak.
ISU hasn’t swept Baylor since the 2012-13 season and must begin to personify that most elusive of qualities — consistency — if that trend is to change.
“We have had great moments and then we’ve had bad moments,” Prohm said. “There’s a couple games that, yeah, we let slip away. We can all sit here and talk about those two or three games, but the games we lost where we just didn’t respond, that’s what we’ve got to get away from. Sometimes you can hit a team and they’re just darn good that night and they were just better than you. But let that be the case before we just wither.”
In other words, make them prove it. Play sound, sensible and explosive basketball, then let the chips fall where they may.
“If things are going well, let’s keep riding the wave,” Cyclone forward Solomon Young said. “Let’s keep it going. But (sometimes) people are going to have runs. Just make sure when a team goes on runs to keep our poise and finish.”
Cameron Lard and Young both posted double-doubles in the West Virginia win. It’s the best game the redshirt freshman and sophomore bigs have played as a tandem and Prohm drew up some individual workouts for Thursday designed to sustain that synergy going forward.
The first 10 minutes were devoted to dummy box outs, ball screen defense and basic post ‘D.’
“Just to get them into the mentality of here’s how we need to play,” Prohm said. “I need to just defend and compete the way I feel the most comfortable with. That means we need to pressure. We need to deny passing lanes. And then we need to be physical in the post.”
LEADERSHIP BY COMMITTEE
It’s well known that just three current Cyclones played in a cardinal and gold uniform last season — and Jackson is the only senior among that select group.
Because of that, he’s looked to as a leader and he’s growing into that role, while tugging everyone else along, too.
“After the Tennessee game we had a team meeting with no coaches,” Talley said. “It was players only. I think that helped as well — helped us progress as a team in every aspect.”
Jackson’s been more vocal recently and played his best overall game as a Cyclone in Wednesday’s win over the Mountaineers.
“I thought the last week he’s really tried to take some steps, especially really after the Tennessee game,” Prohm said. “He talked to the guys. He’s been coachable. He played at the point, he played off the ball. He made great decisions (Wednesday) night. I think the one thing — you can talk about a lot of different things (Wednesday) night, I just thought our patience and our poise against the press when we broke pressure was good. A lot of times you just keep going and going and going. Quick shot. Turnover. We backed it out. We ran offense. And both those guys, him and Lindell (Wigginton), made good decisions.”