Jan. 16, 2019; Lubbock, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) dribbles the ball as Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Brandone Francis (1) defends in the first half at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State big man George Conditt IV managed to keep it G-rated when asked to describe Texas Tech’s tenacious basketball team.
That’s not easy to do.
“Just tough as sh …” Conditt said, catching himself. “Just tough people, man. Just really tough. They’re a good hard-nosed team and they’ve always been tough defensively. Coach (Chris Beard) prides himself on that, so we just have to go out there and play our basketball.”
The Red Raiders (11-5, 2-2 Big 12) are adept at preventing foes from doing that, but the Cyclones will still seek to replicate last year’s road win at United Supermarkets Arena when the two teams tangle there at 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU).
ISU (8-8, 1-3) has handed Texas Tech two of their three home losses since the 2016-17 season and matching — and exceeding — the Red Raiders’ toughness is a big reason why.
“That’s what I feel like should be the theme of this team,” said the 6-10 Conditt, who ranks 15th nationally, according to KenPom, in block percentage at 13.1. “We need to be tougher. If we’re going to win games, we have to be tougher.”
The Cyclones showed plenty of that mettle-based attribute in the first half of Wednesday’s 68-55 loss at Baylor, but couldn’t fully carry it over into the second half.
A disputed call at the end of the half that netted the Bears three free throws didn’t help, either.
“You watched the first half,” said ISU star guard Tyrese Haliburton, who scored just six points Wednesday, but also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out nine assists. “We were right there, really. And then kind of a bogus foul at the end of the half — if it is, or is not — but a two-point to five-point game with the No. 2 team in the country and that’s what they’re known for, is they’re probably the toughest team in the country and we’re right there with them battling for loose balls and things like that. So you’ve just got to bottle up the good times and the good sessions, the good possessions and keep them going. The problem right now is just consistency. Being able to do the right thing for multiple games and multiple times within the games, so we’re just figuring that out right now.”
Toughness can’t come in mere stretches. It must span 40 minutes or more of basketball. That’s not easy to do against teams such as Baylor and Texas Tech, but it’s what’s required if ISU’s to make any kind of run over the final half of the regular season.
“It’s consistency on the defensive end and on the glass,” Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm said. “We’ve got to guard the ball better, we’ve got to be better on ball screen defense, we’ve got to rebound better. Forget all the offense and all that stuff. We had some open opportunities, we didn’t convert, so be it. I think the thing we have to be (is) mentally tougher, physically tougher and emotionally tougher to where we do go, things do go bad, you are down 10, can you handle it and come back? I mean, basketball, how many times do you see it, you see people get down 15, 10, down 14 at half and by the first media timeout it’s a six-point game? That’s how the game is. So we do have to be tougher.”
But what does that mean, beyond being more consistently hard-nosed on a daily and nightly basis?
“Attention to detail and scouting report,” Prohm added. “Knowing what we’re doing in those situations. Executing out of a timeout on things we work on all the time. So you can define toughness a lot of ways. We’ve got to be more consistent.”
The same could be said for the new-look, but still tenacious Red Raiders, who lost a slew of prime contributors — including the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jarrett Culver — from last season’s team that lost in overtime to Virginia in the NCAA Tournament championship game.
And while ISU’s striving to establish a consistently “tough” approach to the game, Texas Tech’s gritty identity is firmly in place.
“Not much changed,” Prohm said. “Most of the stuff they ran from last year, they’re running this year. The defense is the same. You’ve got to go down there and match their toughness and energy — the environment. That’s really it. They’re nothing different from last year. The names and numbers have changed, but they are who they are.”