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Basketball

WILLIAMS: Cyclones snap out of funk vs. OU … What does it mean going forward?

Feb 25, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) drives past Oklahoma Sooners guard Miles Reynolds (3) at Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — The Iowa State basketball program – from its players to its fans – needed Monday night. 

A 78-61 victory over Big 12 rival Oklahoma delivered more relief to the masses than joy, but that’s better than what a loss would have represented. 

An 11-for-23 night from the 3-point line led Iowa State to something it hadn’t done in almost a month – win a game it was supposed to in Hilton Coliseum. 

Exhale, Cyclone Nation. 

“This place has a history of being special and you never want to let people down,” a jovial Steve Prohm said after the game. “Not if it means something to you.”

It means everything to Prohm, an authentic coach who is constantly paying respect to those who came before him at Iowa State.

As for his relatively young basketball team – if they didn’t understand before losing three home games as double-digit favorites this season – they most certainly do now. 

“We just needed a win,” Prohm said. “We lost two home games (recently) so that is magnified.”

Prior to the second half on Monday night, the digital ribbon circling Hilton Coliseum read, “DEFEND HILTON.”

Iowa State responded by outscoring the Sooners 41-25 in the second period. 

The Cyclones didn’t just defend the house that Johnny Orr built, but they flourished in the second half by locking down on defense and sharing the basketball on the other end.

It was a workmanlike step in the right direction with three games remaining in the regular season. 

Let’s analyze it further with three bullish and three bearish takes on Monday’s victory…

Three reasons why this win could mark a turnaround…

1 – Urgency has set in. 

You wish that it wouldn’t have taken so long but the world isn’t a perfect place. Iowa State senior and Big 12 Player of the Year long shot Marial Shayok woke up to an epiphany on Monday morning. 

“I realized that I only have a few number of games left,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I have no regret. I’m going to leave it all out there for sure and help this team as much as possible.”

Shayok only attempted five shots on Saturday at TCU – his lowest tally of the season. It was an odd performance for the Virginia transfer, who had a season-low four points. 

Shayok went 8-for-13 on vs. the Sooners totaling a game-high 21 points with six rebounds and five assists. He texted his coach in the morning after shoot-around. 

“It was a nice little paragraph about his thoughts going down the stretch,” Prohm said. “I thought he would be ready to go tonight.”

It marked the first game that Shayok made at least 50 percent of his shots since a 75-74 win at Oklahoma on Feb. 4. 

“I don’t think we had that sense of urgency the last couple of weeks,” Shayok said. “Now, we have no choice. Especially for Zoran (Talley), (Nick) Babb and I going into our last few weeks of college.”

2 – If the newly found sense of urgency is real, then Iowa State should get back to playing the kind of defense it did earlier in the season. 

Oklahoma went 6-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half. The Sooners were 0-for-8 in the second 20. 

“When we are locked in and dialed in, we have a chance to beat a lot of people,” Prohm said. “But when we’re not, when we cut corners, don’t share the ball and are soft on defense, we are average. But that’s for all of the teams.”

It all works together. 

“Shots going in leads to more energy on defense,” Prohm said. “I know that. It’s a proven.”

3 – One can argue that this “turnaround” actually began in the second half of the TCU loss. 

Simply looking at the box score, Iowa State shouldn’t have been within striking distance of TCU on Saturday. But despite going 2-of-20 from three and playing one of their worst halves of the season in the first 20, the Cyclones had a chance to win a road game against a likely bubble team. 

The second half at TCU wasn’t perfect but it was spirited, which went a long way in boosting the team’s morale leading up to Monday’s bout with OU. 

Three reasons why this win doesn’t mark a significant turnaround…

1 – Oklahoma is a below average Big 12 team.

Iowa State simply did what it was supposed to do, which the Cyclones should get credit for, but is not worth overthinking.

2 – It was a good shooting night for Iowa State, but we’ve seen this before. 

Iowa State went 58 percent from 3-point range in its 78-64 win at K-State on Feb. 16. The Cyclones went 11-of-23 from three Monday vs. OU. 

Hot shooting or did other things lead to that?

Who’s to say Iowa State won’t slump again on Saturday at Texas or the following week at West Virginia?

3 – The Cyclones have lacked consistency all year. 

And this is where the Cyclones still have a lot to prove. 

Every time this season when fans have had reason to really get excited, that’s when they’ve been in the most danger of being let down. 

Will that trend change in the month of March?

If it does, buckle up, because this talented team has the potential to take us all on a very exciting ride. 

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