AMES – The rebirth of Iowa State basketball has been built on three primary pillars. Transfers, one of the most intimidating home atmospheres in the sport and elite offense.
Those three things allowed Fred Hoiberg to bring this program back from the dead following the Morgan and McDermott eras. A group of transcendent four-year stars helped Steve Prohm carry Hoiberg’s torch during his first two seasons in Ames.
I think we might have just gotten our first true dose of what Prohm wants his Iowa State basketball program to look like. Homegrown talent, one of the most intimidating home atmospheres in the sport and elite effort, heart and hustle that turns into an intimidating defensive effort – or exactly what we saw during Iowa State’s 76-59 win over Missouri.
“If you’re going to be good defensively, you have to build habits. It takes time. Guys who go through this program for four years should do 10,000 closeouts before they leave here,” Prohm said after the game. “That’s kind of our running joke because you’ve got to have great discipline. If you would have watched the Missouri game (last year), we were joking about it in the office, our closeouts were atrocious, but those guys had only worked on closeouts for a couple weeks or a couple months. You’ve got a lot more guys out there, and I know we’ve got a lot of freshmen out there playing, but I think they’ve bought in.”
Who could have possibly seen this coming during the day on Friday? While rumors circulated of Lindell Wigginton’s injury, the sky in Cyclone Nation had officially begun to fall. Our forums were a mix of wondering whether or not Wigginton would return in time to help this team salvage its NCAA Tournament resume and expecting to be crushed by the Tigers.
Add in the fact of two other starters (Cameron Lard and Solomon Young) and another key rotation player (Zoran Talley) all sidelined for various things, there was no way someone could expect what we watched at Hilton Coliseum on Friday.
After the first 15 minutes of the game, it was a thorough butt-kicking. It was similar to the treatment the Tigers gave Iowa State to open last season in Columbia and it was all built on a Cyclone defense that forced 25 turnovers, the most of the Prohm era in Ames.
“We just stuck to our game plan,” senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb, who finished with 16 points, six assists and zero turnovers, said. “Coach wanted to fire on the post and we got it out of (Jeremiah) Tilmon’s hands. He’s been big time for them last year and the first game this year. We just kind of stuck to the gameplan, played the gaps, contested every shot. That’s all it was to it.”
Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said it was clear during his preparation for the game, Weiler-Babb is the engine that makes Iowa State go. The sometimes overly passive senior lead guard was every bit the engine for most of a night in which he played 39 minutes.
Senior guard Marial Shayok was the coal that stoked the fire, scoring a team-high 20 points in 24 minutes. Junior forward Michael Jacobson was steady via 15 point, and six rebound performance. Freshman stud Talen Horton-Tucker scored 12 points while going 6-of-8 from the free throw line.
Those guys were crucially important to the win, but, in my mind, there was a clear conductor of this effort – Tyrese Haliburton. The lanky freshman from Oshkosh played all 40 minutes in just his second collegiate game and scored eight points, snagged four steals, dished two assists, blocked two shots and did not turn the ball over once.
His energy is infectious. There is something different about this Iowa State team from what the one we saw last season, and, at this point, it is hard to point to anything besides what he brings to the table.
They play with so much energy, effort and heart, especially when Haliburton is on the court. How could Prohm take him out on Friday?
“When I first watched him play in the summer in AAU, he just has something about him,” Prohm said. “I just think he’s a good fit for this school. He’s a good fit for this university. He reminds me a lot of the guys I was fortunate to coach my first couple years here just with the personality, with the character, with the charisma, just what he’s about. He can handle himself in any situation. He’s been good, but as I talked about in the locker room, it’s game two. You need to be the same Tyrese Haliburton you were a month ago. Just continue to work and learn. He’s got a chance to be a very good player. He’s just got to keep working.”
It is hard to believe the success of Haliburton’s first two games will go to his head. He has been a winner his entire life, reaching its apex to this point with a state title and state player of the year honors during his senior year of high school.
Haliburton is fun to watch. This Iowa State has been fun to watch through two games – and they do not even have what should be on paper three of their best five players.
It felt like the sky might be falling on this season early in the day on Friday, but maybe it was just a little rain after all.
“This is one game, so I think you’ve got to hit the guys in the head right away that this is one game,” Prohm said. “Then, ask what do we have to do to get better from here?”