WILLIAMS: Observations on big dunks, defense and Cam Lard’s playing time at the Hy-Vee Classic

DES MOINES — Iowa State’s (9-2) 68-77 victory over Drake (6-2) on Saturday was a pretty typical Cyclone performance at the Hy-Vee Classic, no?

Allow a spirited Missouri Valley Conference rival to hang around – if not lead – for 30 minutes or so. Then have enough gas left in the tank to pull away at the end and be pretty happy with your performance. 

The script played out this way in the final Hy-Vee Classic (an event that Iowa State finished 6-1 in), but the details surrounding the affair were different. 

And that’s what I love about Steve Prohm’s collection of Cyclones so far during the 2018-19 basketball season. They always show up eager and excited to ball out. 

They are not perfect. Far from it. There’s a lot of room to grow.

Perhaps it’s all of that youth that makes them so eager to consistently show up with passion? 

It’s hard telling. 

Give Drake credit. The Bulldogs making Iowa State sweat was no fluke. Drake was difficult to guard, hit some key shots and proved to be a legitimate threat to finish in the top half of the Valley. 

Onto nuggets from my notebook…

We all love huge dunks ….. BUT …… 

Surely you’ve seen replays of the monster dunks from freshmen Tyrese Haliburton and Talen Horton-Tucker


“Big-time plays,” said Prohm of the jams.

One of the perks of sitting courtside is watching the bench react to plays like this. The fellas stand up, smile and laugh while playfully punching one another (I’m not sure why people do this when a big dunk occurs but at every level of the sport, players or fans, this is how we react). 

“It just energizes everybody,” Iowa State’s leading scorer on the night, Michael Jacobson, who had 22, said. “It’s a huge spark. It gets everybody going and wakes everybody up. I just think that when guys like Tyrese and Talen get those dunks that it wakes everybody up. I feel like we didn’t have great energy for stretches.”

As I watched these big plays inside of Wells Fargo Arena, I yearned to ask the following question: What do coaches think of plays like that? Do you encourage them because of the momentum they can bring to a team and arena? Or would you prefer a more high percentage look?

I hit up Prohm after the game. 

“I’m fine, just get back on defense,” Prohm laughed. “That was the problem every time that we did that. We didn’t get back on defense.”

Case and point: Haliburton posterizing of Drake’s Nick McGlynn with 5:18 to play in the first half was followed up by a quick, 5-0 Bulldog run. 

Too much celebrating. Not enough defending.

Iowa State had a second highlight reel dunk – this one coming via Horton-Tucker – who swiped a steal and rose over Anthony Murphy at the 9:32 mark. 

“First, I was worried as to what Coach was thinking,” Horton-Tucker said. “They always tell us to get back and I wasn’t really doing that. My legs are noodles right now. I just went up and with the momentum of the game – I just finished it.”

Finish, indeed. And one can argue that Horton-Tucker’s big play was the turning point in this one. The dunk tied the game at 54 and the Cyclones outscored Drake 21-14 the rest of the way. 

“Everybody loves offense, and I fall in love with it too,” Prohm said. “I don’t know if it’s just Ames, Iowa that makes you fall in love with offense or what but we have got to focus – if we are good on defense then we will be better offensively because we can play in space and we have guys that can push the break.”

Analyze the current Cameron Lard situation

I’m getting tired of talking about this. 

Cameron Lard, who was a double-double machine in the middle of Big 12 play last season, isn’t seeing the floor much. Part of it is by his own doing. The sophomore can’t stay out of foul trouble. 

In front of a loud ovation from a pro-Cyclone crowd, Lard entered the game for the first time with 14:40 to play as Iowa State trailed by three. 

Lard picked up three fouls in three minutes. 

“I thought George (Conditt) did a great job for us in the first half but I wanted to see if Cam could raise the level of the game with his size and athleticism,” Prohm said. “He just has to continue to get into game shape but again, Mike played well and I thought George played well in segments. For us to max our ceiling, we need to get Cameron in a good place and he has a little ways to go. It’s normal.”

There. Prohm said it. He knows that in order for this team to be a strong threat to get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Cameron Lard has to be a factor.

But here’s the thing: He isn’t there yet.

Lard has collected 14 fouls in 31 minutes this season. 

Meanwhile, other guys are producing in his absence.

Prohm is in a difficult spot. 

It’s hard to completely take George Conditt’s minutes away. By all means, this is a guy who does everything right. Behind the scenes, the freshman out of Chicago works as hard as anyone in the team and cheers others on along the way. 

But Lard, when he’s right, is clearly a better basketball player at this point in their careers. And this is Big 12 basketball, where the best players play and to quote Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” 

I believe that Prohm is playing the long game by choosing to slow play the situation. It’s better for team chemistry. It’s good for the program culture. The guys who are around, doing things right play while the ones who haven’t been around or aren’t “living right” have to earn minutes. 

I’m ok with it. 

But it does take patience from fans, which if you guys are being honest, isn’t exactly your strong suit. 

Solomon Young suited up

Following a bad groin injury in the preseason, it was good to see Solomon Young warming up for the first time this season. Prohm said that the junior would have been able to play had the team needed him. 

“He has only practiced maybe two or three days,” Prohm said. “But he went through all of the stuff and both of those guys should dress for Friday.”

“Those guys” includes Lindell Wigginton, one of the best players in the entire Big 12. 

Iowa State will have Friday’s game against Eastern Illinois (6 p.m. on Cyclones.TV) as a final tune-up for Big 12 play before traveling to Oklahoma State on Jan. 2. 

A few more observations from the win…

…Drake shot 70 percent from the field in the first nine minutes of the second half. A lot of that was based on the defense that Iowa State played to start the second 20. 

“That’s going to make or break us,” Jacobson said. “We have to be locked in defensively. We can’t let offense dictate our defense. If we can continue to get back to how we were playing defense in the first half of the year – just bring some more energy to it – we can be really good.”

…Iowa State’s best offense is when the Cyclones – specifically Nick Weiler-Babb and Marial Shayok – are attacking the basket. 

…Shayok started the game 0-for-6 from the field but made seven of his last 10 shots to end with 18 points and six rebounds. 

“We knew he was going to be fine,” Jacobson said. “It was a matter of time before he started making them.”

…More on Shayok’s importance to the team, this time from Prohm. 

“He’s got to be great defensively,” Prohm said. “He struggled at times but really made some plays. I thought that during the last six or seven minutes our length really started getting us some deflections and with passing lanes, we switched the right way.”

…Regarding Drake…That was a well-coached basketball team. Darian Devries will do well there. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they finish in the top half of the Valley.