Dec 8, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward George Conditt IV (4) dunks against the Seton Hall Pirates at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Pirates 76 to 66. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Steve Prohm took his seat the podium and let out a sigh as a smile spread across his face.
“Like the old Big East, man,” Iowa State’s head coach said. “Like what I grew up watching.”
He was referring to Iowa State’s 76-66 win over No. 16 Seton Hall on Sunday night at Hilton Coliseum. It was a knockdown, drag-out, heavyweight type of bout between two teams that had already matched up a little more than a week earlier.
The atmosphere, the physicality and the toughness were fit for a battle between Georgetown and Seton Hall, but instead of John Thompson and P.J. Carlesimo patrolling the sidelines, it was Prohm and Kevin Willard. Hilton Coliseum took the place of Madison Square Garden.
Instead of the Hoyas, it was the Cyclones, no matter how much George Conditt might look like Patrick Ewing when the sophomore big man is swatting away opponents’ shots at a rate as impressive as anybody in college basketball.
This wasn’t the old Big East, but it was a perfect example of the new Iowa State.
“We needed a game where we had to just fight and claw and things weren’t perfect, crowd gets behind you, these guys just kept competing, made big plays, whether it was a stop, a big shot, an offensive rebound, a defensive rebound, it’s a helluva win for us,” Prohm said. “We’ve got to take it as what it is. It’s one win, but we needed a game like this. We needed to win one. We had to get this one done tonight.”
This was a long way from the Iowa State basketball program Fred Hoiberg brought back from the doldrums at the beginning of the decade. Scott Christopherson, Tyrus McGee and Matt Thomas could not have felt further away as the Cyclones struggled shooting the ball (again) to the tune of 38 percent from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range.
None of that matters, though. This is not Christopherson, McGee or Thomas’ Iowa State team. This is a team defined by Conditt’s rim-protection, Prentiss Nixon‘s hard-nosed defensive effort and Tyrese Haliburton‘s… well… everything.
This is a team built on staring its opponent square in the face and saying, “I’m a tougher S.O.B. than you are.” This is a team built on playing for each other — and for Iowa State.
“It’s been a goal of our to not lose (at Hilton Coliseum),” Haliburton, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in a full 40 minutes, said. “Treat Hilton the right way (like) we weren’t able to do last year. I’m really proud of the guys. It’s a big win for us.”
When shots brick off the rim in bunches, this team sets its mind to making the opposing team do the same thing on the other end of the floor. They were able to do that against the Pirates, holding them to just 36 percent from the floor and 26 percent from deep.
Those are the moments when Conditt starts to work the crowd and Nixon starts to harass the other team’s best player. The former Colorado State transfer did that plenty against Seton Hall, “holding” All-American guard Myles Powell to 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting and 4-of-11 from behind the arc.
Eventually, Rasir Bolton is able to get downhill towards the rim in transition, something he did often in this game while scoring 17 points, grabbing eight rebounds and shooting 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Soon, Haliburton is making a fancy pass to Conditt, who scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots in 19 minutes, for a wide-open slam dunk to cap a lead-taking run.
Then, the cycle starts over.
“What’s the knack? We’re not always tough. Everybody kind of throws that out there here and there. You kind of hear that through the back channels,” Prohm said. “Kind of like (Clemson football coach) Dabo Swinney-Esque, alright, let’s win a grit and toughness game where we’ve got to fight through things. We did that. We figured out a way. We need to make shots at some point. But, we hadn’t won a game like that against a legit, legit team. We did tonight.”
This Iowa State team wants to (figuratively) punch you in the nose just as badly as they want to run you out of the gym. They want to go toe-to-toe, pound their chests and wag a finger in your face until they get blue in the face or you decide you have had enough and quit.
They will make fun of your height, tell you the only chance you have of stopping them is “calling God” and do it all with a big, tantalizing smile.
Do you want to hate them?
That’s fine, in fact, they probably prefer it. They will play the villain all night — and season — long if that is what it takes to win basketball games.
“You’ve got to be grimy,” Conditt said. “You’ve got to be nasty if you want to win certain games… You can continue to call us whatever you want. All I know is we’re going to come in every day and work hard.”
This is the new Iowa State.