Jan 18, 2020; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Chris Clarke (44) drives between Iowa State Cyclones guard Rasir Bolton (44) and forward Solomon Young (33) in the first half at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — When is an open 3-point shot an ill-advised one?
When your team struggles to make them, of course.
That’s where Iowa State finds itself entering Tuesday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 matchup with Oklahoma State at Hilton Coliseum.
The Cyclones are ranked 273rd nationally by KenPom in 3-point shooting percentage at 30.9. The Cowboys? They’re misfiring even more frequently at 29.8 percent, which ranks 301st.
So something’s got to give as ISU (8-8, 1-4) seeks to avoid joining Oklahoma State (9-8, 0-5) in the conference’s cellar.
“I’ve got to keep giving these guys confidence,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “You’re supposed to play hard. That shouldn’t be a sign of anything special. Kids should play hard. But when kids are playing with great confidence and swagger, that’s fun. … You’ve got to figure out a way. I told them yesterday, ‘Man, you’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to play with great confidence, but we’ve got to understand what we’re looking for, too.’”
That would be more paint touches, whether off drives or passes down low.
And when open threes do materialize, it may be wise to pass some of them up, given ISU’s low success rate from distance so far this season.
“Sometimes. No question,” Prohm said when asked about shooting fewer 3s. “I have to do a better job of just addressing that.”
As for confidence, the Cyclones can continue to build it in other ways if a more judicious approach to beyond-the-arc opportunities actually takes root.
“Take pride in your defense,’ ISU guard Rasir Bolton said. “Take pride in helping your teammates out. Just try to get to the basket. Confidence comes with your work, so if you work hard, you’re confident, because there’s really no need to be nervous when you go out there. Just keep working.”
The Cyclones’ performance on the defensive end has gotten better in the past two games, but that progress has been undone by brutal second-half stretches in double-digit losses at No. 1 Baylor and No. 18 Texas Tech.
And incremental improvement obviously isn’t enough if ISU wants to have any chance of playing meaningful basketball in March.
The Cyclones have lost five of their past six games and they’ve shot worse than 29 percent from 3-point range in the three most recent setbacks.
“It’s just those mental lulls; four or five minute stretches where we just completely take ourselves out of the game, give up big runs, that’s what hurts us the most,” senior forward Mike Jacobson said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to eliminate those and if we can do that, you’ll see us string a few together, get some wins.”
The key lies in shot selection and defensive intensity — as well as getting it into the paint.
Oklahoma State’s 3-point defense is ranked 32nd nationally, so the best route back to a winning track consists of forcing turnovers and scoring inside and in transition.
“Just attack the paint. Get in the lane. Get to the free-throw line. Pound it inside to the big guys,” Jacobson said. “Things like that. But, again, you don’t want to make it so where you’re not taking open shots. What you’re looking for on offense is an open shot. So don’t pass up an open shot, because it could turn into a turnovers and then you’re just empty possession. So it’s hard. There’s a fine line.”
Yes, it is. Striking the proper balance is also a fine art — and one ISU hopes to finally acquire after struggling in the first half of the season.
“I’ve got to give them great confidence,” Prohm said. “I’ve got to give them great confidence that I believe in them, that they feel good, and rhythm shots — good shots, now, we’ve got to take the tough ones out. We’ve got to take the bad early ones out. We’ve got to take the stagnant ones out, but, man, they should have great confidence to shoot open, rhythm 3s. They’re very capable of making them.”