WILLIAMS: Stagnant Cyclones exit early, leaving legacy of season up for debate

Mar 22, 2019; Tulsa, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) reacts after a loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Ohio State won 62-59. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

TULSA, Okla. — Iowa State exited the NCAA Tournament in the first round on Friday night in a game that we’ve all seen before. The ball stuck offensively. The Cyclones looked sluggish and struggled to make shots (6-of-22 from three) while Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson dominated the paint.

The Buckeyes won, 62-59, marking Iowa State’s second-lowest scoring output of the season.

The NCAA Tournament is a really bad time to go cold.

Early exits are no fun for anyone. The most frustrating part of the loss is that for as bad as Iowa State played, they were right in it to the end. Just one more run or a few more plays and the Cyclones would be playing Houston on Sunday night for a trip to the Sweet 16.

Instead, a Saturday flight to Ames is in store for the fellas.

Ohio State had a solid game plan. The Buckeyes dictated tempo and controlled from the start. Tip your cap to Chris Holtmann, an impressive coach.

Iowa State looked decent in spurts but could never consistently get over the hump, even with a significant crowd advantage in the BOK Center.

It’s going to be a weird offseason in Ames.

Before getting to personnel, head coach Steve Prohm all but put an end to the Alabama rumors after the game.

“There is no story,” Prohm said. “I want to be the best coach I can be at Iowa State for a long, long time.”

Two starters, Marial Shayok and Nick Weiler-Babb are gone. So is reserve Zoran Talley.

Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker didn’t want to address their futures but are almost certain to at least test their NBA options, as they absolutely should.

After another tumultuous year, is Cameron Lard long for Iowa State?

You all watched the game. It was ugly.

Three starters – Weiler-Babb, Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobson – combined to go 2-of-17 from the field.

That’s not the team that we saw in Kansas City last week. Going on an eight-minute scoreless stretch like Iowa State did in the first half make winning NCAA Tournament games all but impossible.

I can’t give you much more fresh perspective on the basketball but I can take you to the locker room after the game. It reminded me a little bit of Dayton in 2013.

Surely you remember the footage of Georges Niang sobbing uncontrollably after Aaron Craft’s buzzer beater?

What stood out Friday night was the number of Cyclones who were so shook up.

Three freshmen, Tyrese Haliburton, George Conditt and Horton-Tucker were extremely broken up. So too was Wigginton, who had a tumultuous sophomore season fighting an injury and coming off of the bench.

Jacobson came off as a leader. He answered every question with force, already having an eye on next year.

For a group that struggled to play together for much of the Big 12 season, it was good to see them care so deeply.

“Everybody leave your uniforms on,” yelled Zoran Talley. “We’re getting one last picture as a team. I love you all.”

Assuming Iowa State has a positive offseason without many detractors, 2019-20 is set up to be really fun.

There are two things that make this loss so difficult though, which will require time to heal for everyone from the team to fans watching at home.

1 – I’m not entirely sure how to evaluate this season as a whole.

The Cyclones started 19-6 and at one point looked like a strong contender to break Kansas’ Big 12 title streak. Iowa State limped to the finish line but recovered to win the Big 12 Tournament, which is no walk in the park.

“This team had a lot of great moments this season, and you’ll be able to reflect on that in a couple weeks to where – between suspensions, injuries, mid season injuries, having a tough three-week stretch where everybody wrote us off and then went to Kansas City and had an believable weekend,” Prohm said. “We just weren’t good enough tonight. We still had opportunities down the stretch. We couldn’t get it done. I hate it for these guys because the finale came a lot quicker than I was thinking. I really thought we had a chance to do something.”

After being picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 and finishing where they did, was the season a success?

2 – Ohio State is a nice team but nothing incredible.

That’s a game that Iowa State should have won, which are always the toughest to stomach. Likewise, these end of season columns are always the toughest to write.

The 2018-19 season had some very nice moments but I fear will ultimately be remembered as one that left us wanting more.