Feb 15, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Kai Jones (22) defends Iowa State Cyclones forward Michael Jacobson (12) at Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State forward Mike Jacobson sifted through the slew of scenarios facing all the Big 12’s current second-division teams — especially his own.
The 6-9 senior from Waukee’s conclusion? The Cyclones (11-15, 4-9) can still climb a couple spots in the standings and avoid the dreaded Wednesday night slate at the Big 12 Tournament.
So the glass is half full — despite the loss of star sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton — as long as ISU takes care of business Saturday at 5 p.m. against Texas Tech (17-9, 8-5) at Hilton Coliseum and ekes out a few more more wins down the home stretch of the regular season.
“I was looking at it last night — where we’re at and where everybody else is at,” said Jacobson, who’s coming off his two best Big 12 performances of the season. “Fifth and sixth place is probably still realistic, so we’re definitely going to battle all the way until the end. I feel like we’ve been playing better. Obviously (the 91-71 loss at No. 3) Kansas doesn’t reflect that, but there are some positive things to take away, like I said, making more shots and the ball was moving pretty well. We’ve got to figure it out on defense.”
That’s been the bugaboo all season — with or without Haliburton.
The Cyclones drained 9 of 12 3-pointers in the first half against the Jayhawks, but still trailed 50-40 at halftime. An early second-half surge trimmed the deficit to five points, but Kansas pulled away behind torrid 56.7 percent shooting.
“There’s no way you go to Allen Fieldhouse and give up 50 in the first half and expect to come out with a win,” ISU senior guard Prentiss Nixon said.
So the Cyclones again will press the reset button at home, where after a slow start, they’ve finally started winning regularly, coming out on top in four of the past five games at Hilton.
Both Jacobson and Nixon are playing their best ball of the season.
Nixon scored a then-ISU career-high 17 points in his team’s 81-52 shellacking of Texas last Saturday — then topped that with 20 points in the Kansas loss.
Jacobson notched a combined 34 points and 21 rebounds in those games after scoring in single digits in the previous seven.
“I think there’s a lot to play for,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “If you look at the way the standings are right now, we’ve got three home games (Tech, TCU, West Virginia), two road games against teams that are beneath us in the standings (Kansas State, Oklahoma State). … If we can get these (next) two games, I think we have a chance to legitimately be in the top six or possibly even five.”
Sunny-side up scenarios for the Cyclones will only materialize if they can topple the Red Raiders, then handle TCU at home on Tuesday, and build momentum from there on out.
Tech — which pulled away for a 72-52 win over ISU last month in Lubbock — has won four of its past five games and boasts the nation’s 11th-most defense in terms of efficiency, according to KenPom.
The Cyclones used solid defense to hang around in that previous meeting, but poor shooting (36 percent) and a late 14-0 Red Raiders’ run sealed their fate.
I thought we did a good job of playing tough, getting 50-50 balls, making them work for it,” Jacobson said of that game. “They pulled away. They hit some shots. I think it’s just one of those things, you’ve just got to know how important each possession is, especially in this league. Guys are really good players who can make shots. Can’t give anything up. Just gotta keep working. I think that will be kind of our refocus this game — making sure we put two halves together.”
That’s been an issue all season, along with sometimes good, but more frequently not-so-good performances on the defensive end.
Still, a path out of Wednesday night purgatory in Kansas City exists. The Cyclones simply need to follow it — and, more importantly, execute for 40 minutes in order to avoid the myriad obstacles along the way.
“Just keep fighting,” Jacobson said. “Keep working hard in practice and let the chips fall where they may.”