Mar 22, 2019; Tulsa, OK, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Duane Washington Jr. (4) shoots against Iowa State Cyclones forward George Conditt IV (4) and guard Marial Shayok (right) during the first half in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Great shot blockers are born, not made, right?
Well, yes, and no.
ISU’s leading rim protector, George Conditt IV — a long-limbed, athletic 6-10 post — certainly has the pedigree to shine as a supreme denier in the paint, but raw size and talent has now merged with a mental edge that keeps opponents guessing at their peril.
“It’s all about timing,” said Conditt, a sophomore who swatted away six shots in Saturday’s 80-74 loss at Oregon State. “The first few times, you kind of want to just contest, because in the scouting report it’s, ‘He’s a shot blocker, he’s a shot blocker, he’s going to jump for everything.’ So you contest. Now you’re in their head. You just, simple contest, or simple wall up, you’re in their head. Then sooner or later, they drive to the hole and they think you’re going to wall up and you go block it. It’s all about mental.”
Conditt showed glimpses of his ability to protect the rim and run it, as well, as a true freshman last season, but enters Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game against Northern Illinois at Hilton Coliseum bigger, stronger, and wiser in terms of his approach to the game — and as a bulwark against would-be paint finishers.
He’s always been adept at grabbing offensive boards. Conditt totaled 43 rebounds as a reserve last season and 18 (or 42 percent) of those came on the offensive end. This season, his role has expanded and he’s averaging 6.5 boards per game and four blocks per contest.
“I think defensively he was a really big presence for us,” Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm said of Conditt’s performance in Corvallis. “He had six blocks and he ran the floor. He’s got great hands, so he’s got a really good feel around the rim, catching passes, but defensively he was a really big presence for us and both halves he played really well.”
Defense, Prohm said, is what will determine success or failure this season for ISU (1-1), which features three starters who played few, if any, minutes last season.
“Our offensive numbers are good,” Prohm said. “We’ve got to find a way to be a good defensive team. This team, this year, right now, in this moment, we’ve got to be a good defensive team.”
That starts with communication, which should get better as game reps unfold, Prohm added. But Saturday’s setback highlighted the relative inexperience of this crop of Cyclones — especially when it comes to playing together.
Oregon State (2-0) shot 49 percent from the field and a torrid 57 percent from 3-point range.
Worse, mismatch nightmare Tres Tinkle, who stands 6-7, drilled two late 3s that turned a late one-point Cyclones lead into the final outcome.
Tinkle scored a game-high 27 points, but struggled to find scoring avenues until late, thanks to stern defense from ISU’s 6-2 grad transfer guard Prentiss Nixon.
“I’ve got to know things like that late,” said Nixon, who ‘beat himself up’ over Tinkle’s late 3s. “I’ve been in situations like that before. It’s just taking past experiences and taking it with me. Those two 3s kind of beat me up the last couple days, because I know I could have done better on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s a learning tool.”
All of that flows into Tuesday’s matchup with the Huskies (0-1), who lost to Northern Iowa, 64-54, in their season opener on the road.
So expect progress for the Cyclones on defense and at least a holding pattern on offense. Conditt, as an eraser, can help make sure the former improves. He also can continue to be a potent rim-running threat to ensure that no foe is comfortable, whether on the attack or trying to defend, as the season matures.
Nixon, despite his size, can emerge as a stout on-ball defender of opposing stars of various sizes — as he did against Tinkle, until the two late 3s.
“I think come March, we’ll be right where we want to be,” Nixon said.