Nov 29, 2019; Nassau, BHS; Seton Hall Pirates forward Sandro Mamukelashvili (23) looks to score as Iowa State Cyclones guard Prentiss Nixon (11) defends during the first half at Imperial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Prentiss Nixon can’t be perfect. He also, of course, can’t play every minute of every game.
But Iowa State’s supremely confident and defense-driven transfer guard can and likely did count down the days between an 84-76 loss against No. 16 Seton Hall in the Bahamas and Sunday’s 8 p.m. Big 12/Big East Challenge rematch against the Pirates at Hilton Coliseum.
Nixon’s primary on-ball defense of star Seton Hall guard Myles Powell in the first half of game one yielded just five points.
The second half? Powell erupted for 19 — but that’s not all on Nixon, of course. He acts as if it is, though, which is what makes him such a doggedly fierce defender.
“It means a lot to me,” said the 6-2 Nixon, who regularly is tasked with being the main defender on an opponent’s top backcourt scorer. “I take a lot of pride in it, just because I think I can play with the best of them and getting an opportunity night in and night out to do it and to show it on the big stage, that really means the world to me.”
How to slow Powell — who broke a Battle 4 Atlantis record by scoring 74 points in three games?
“Really just make him cut through your chest,” Nixon said. “I think in the first half we did good at jumping screens and things like that, making him cut through our chest to where he couldn’t get a look at touching the ball. Second half we kind of (eased) off to where he was getting easy catches (to) size up threes, drive to the rim, things like that. Just make the game as physical as possible.”
That’s a central tenet of the Pirates’ philosophy across the board and they have the overall talent and array of skilled bigs to back it up.
KenPom ranks Seton Hall second nationally in average height at 79 inches — and the Pirates (6-2) also feature dangerous inside/outside big man Sandro Mamukelashvili, who shoots 46 percent from 3-point range while adding 3.3 blocks per contest.
He scored 18 points, shot 3-for-4 from 3-point range and blocked a pair of shots while grabbing three crucial offensive boards in the earlier win over the Cyclones.
“He’s a tough matchup for us,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “The last game, played really well. He was the one guy outside of Myles Powell you knew about that when you watched the tape, you’re like, ‘Man, how are we going to guard him? How’s this going to work? He’s was my concern watching five minutes on them, but they’re long on the perimeter. They’re active. They’re good.”
So, too, are the Cyclones (4-3), when they’re playing solid team defense and hitting the glass to ignite transition opportunities.
“We’ve got to defend better,” Prohm said. “We’ve got keep the ball to the paint. We’ve got to do a great job on Powell. We’ve got to figure out pick and roll defense. We’ve got to rebound. We’ve got to make every tough play. And then offensively, we’ve got to share the ball and we’ve really got to cut hard, be strong with the ball. We’re not going to put in 20 new things, but we’ve just got to do the things we do more efficiently and do it better and then the couple tweaks we make, we’ve got to be locked in on that.”
Nixon scored 15 points while snaring a steal in the previous meeting with the Pirates and ISU forced them to adopt more of a four-guard approach at times to help defuse trap-based pressure that produced 17 turnovers.
Powell even coughed the ball up four times and star Cyclones guard Tyrese Haliburton notched three steals to slow the Pirates, as well.
“Whoever has him has to know you’ve got to deny him fully,” Haliburton said after praising Nixon as one of the top perimeter defenders in the country in his eyes. “It’s got to be all throughout scout, all through the week and dudes just have to know — I don’t think anybody’s going to forget that’s Myles Powell, so there should be no excuse for leaving him open.”
No, there shouldn’t be. But the past only informs the future. It doesn’t define it.
Nixon and ISU will do everything possible to ensure there’s a chance to notch a “marquee” win Sunday — but knows another resume-boosting opportunity arrives Thursday when Iowa comes to Hilton, too.
“I think these are two victories we need for our resume, our schedule, and just the morale of this team,” Nixon said. “We hung in with a tough Michigan team for a long time (at the Bahamas). We hung in there with Seton Hall for a long time. We gave one away to Oregon State early, so I think these are two wins we need down the stretch going into the break.”