It didn’t take freshman Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw long to set her career high in scoring during Iowa State’s 82-40 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB) on Friday.
In fact, it only took the freshman 20 minutes to tie it.
Thanks to Espenmiller-McGraw’s 14 points in the first frame, the Cyclones cruised to an 18-point lead at halftime.
“I thought [Espenmiller-McGraw] was really good tonight,” coach Bill Fennelly said. “She gives us another ball handler, another scorer. We’ve got to clean up [her turnovers] and the pace of the game, defensively, is hard for her. But, both of those are getting better. She can make shots. She sees the court. She’s going to be a very, very good player.”
Espenmiller-McGraw shot 6-7 in the first half from the field and finished the game with six rebounds and nine assists, nearly notching a triple-double.
It’s right up there with what Fennelly wanted to see out of the freshman when he recruited her.
“I know how talented she is,” Fennelly said. “When we brought her in, we said ‘We’re going to coach you really hard early because we need you.’ It’s not kind of where she can ease herself in. We need her to play at a level that’s not probably fair. I told her, ‘You’re in a graduate-level class as a freshman. Get used to it.’”
The former Southeast Polk Ram earned her first start in an Iowa State uniform on Friday, and Fennelly said she’ll get the start again in the Cyclones’ next game.
Coming out of the locker room following the first half, the Cyclones surged, outscoring UAPB 29-4 in the third quarter.
It was about as lop-sided of a performance that they’ll see all season.
“I thought the third quarter was about as good as we could play,” Fennelly said. “The game was probably never in doubt but you still have to play the game the right way. A play off here or there doesn’t matter in a game like this, but it’ll matter eventually. Our kids played the way Iowa State needs to play to be successful and when that happens, sometimes, you have quarters like that.”
Ashley Joens was a big part of that, too. She finished with 15 points in the third quarter after failing to make a field goal in the first half.
Overcoming slow starts has been something the sophomore has dealt with in a few games this season, but each night she’s been able to come back and score.
“[Joens] is off to a phenomenal start,” Fennelly said. “The thing I am most impressed with, was that in all three of those last three games she’s played, she’s started the game not very well. Most young people would say it’s not [their] night, and let it go. In all three games, she’s just worked herself to the point where she impacts the game.
Joens finished with 20 points, her fourth game this season hitting that mark.
In the lone game where she didn’t finish with 20 or more, the Iowa City native had 18.
“You just keep on playing,” Joens said. “When my teammates get me the ball, I can knock down some shots. Once you knock down one you kind of build your confidence and keep going.”
Cyclone fans are used to seeing Joens light up the scoreboard, but she did it on Friday without the presence of junior Madison Wise.
Coming into the game, Wise was second on the team in minutes-played, but was not dressed to play when the Cyclones took the floor for warm-ups.
Fennelly said after the game that this was due to migraine headaches.
“We tried to manage it as best as we could,” Fennelly said. “We’re still evaluating trying to find the best way [to get her back onto the court]. She’s improved, but we’re still in that stage of the focus being on her long-term health.”
This pushed Fennelly’s hand into testing out a lot of new combinations in the game on Friday night, playing 10 different players before the end of the first quarter.
Wise will, again, not dress on Sunday when the Cyclones take on New Orleans, which is just another wrinkle to what has already been a season full of injury adversity for the team.
Luckily for the Cyclones, they have another favorable matchup on Sunday, as they take on a 2-4 New Orleans team at Hilton. The game is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. and will be televised by Cyclones.tv.