Iowa State’s Rasir Bolton looks for an open teammate to pass to during the Iowa State men’s basketball season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
It was rarely ever pretty, but Iowa State’s men’s basketball team will end the week exactly how it should: 1-0.
The Cyclones bounced back from an early deficit to beat Arkansas Pine Bluff on Sunday 80-63 in a mostly empty Hilton Coliseum. It was weird and somewhat eery to sit inside of Cyclone Nation’s hallowed home without the 14,000-plus that have made it one of the nation’s most intimidating atmospheres.
Never did I think there would be a day when the majority of the crowd noise inside Hilton would come through the sound system like it did for most of Sunday’s game.
The eeriness and weirdness of it all can probably, at least on some level, explain parts of Iowa State’s slow start, which included the Golden Lions jumping out to a 12-0 lead and forcing Steve Prohm to take a timeout before the under-16 media break. You can also attribute some of the slow start to the number of newcomers playing their first game for the Cyclones, including four true freshmen, and it being the team’s first game of the season compared to Pine Bluff’s third.
Iowa State spent the majority of the first half digging themselves out of that early hole and trailed at the half, but a quick flurry led by newcomers Tyler Harris and Jalen Coleman-Lands after the break helped the Cyclones take the lead then, ultimately, run away for a sizable margin of victory.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” Prohm said. “This was our first game, their third game. I watched both Marquette and Wisconsin, they got off to really good starts, but they attacked the zone really well to start. Pine Bluff missed shots and we were able to extend leads early. They made shots early. We didn’t do a great job defensively. Offensively, it was a lot of threes. Not a lot of movement. A couple threes that you probably need to make but we didn’t. Obviously, 12-0 I needed to get a timeout and get us to regroup. Had a chance to go into halftime with a lead. We missed the dunk and it was kind of a four point swing. Was proud of the way we finished the second half from that standpoint. Just got to clean up our offensive attack, make some adjustments defensively and keep harping on that.”
All in all, there were some good things, there were some bad things. It looked like disaster early but went more or less as expected to close. But it was weird the entire time.
Here’s three up and three down from the season-opener.
1 – It was good to see this team continue to battle after the early struggles and play with better energy as the game went along. This is not a team that is going to overwhelm you with their physical abilities or stature. It will have to be a grind it out, bring your hard hat kind of basketball team.
The energy out of the gate was not there but picked up drastically around the halfway point of the first half.
“Just coming out with a focus, shaking off the jitters of the first half and first game for some of us,” Rasir Bolton, who scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished seven assists, said on what changed after the slow start. “Just knocking the rust off after being in quarantine for awhile and picking up the energy.”
At the start, Iowa State looked like a team with a bunch of new guys playing their first game. Pine Bluff looked like a team that had already played two other major conference opponents in the last week and came out hitting shots they didn’t in their first two games.
Starts like this can’t become a trend for the Cyclones, but it is understandable for game one.
“We all could have gave in, threw in the towel, but we all fought. We stayed together as a team,” Bolton said. “We locked in to what Coach was telling us and we stayed together and we came out with the win. I think that’s the biggest thing, especially with a new group with a lot of freshman playing, just staying together, listening to each other and playing hard.”
2 – Harris and Coleman-Lands started their Cyclone careers more or less as we expected them to. Coleman-Lands, the graduate transfer from DePaul, scored a team-high 17 points while Harris added 14 points of his own, including going 4-of-8 from 3-point range.
When the Cyclones needed someone to step up and start knocking down some shots, they were the ones who delivered until Bolton started to get things rolling shortly after. This trio will likely be the cornerstone of anything Iowa State does this season, especially offensively, and finding ways to get them going early in games will be big for Prohm and his staff.
There is depth on this roster (more on that in a second), but this team needs to find an identity and it will probably need to come centered around the program’s three most experienced guards.
As those three go, the Cyclones will most likely follow.
3 – I was not sure what to expect from the Cyclones’ four true freshmen this season, but each of them impressed in their own way during their debut.
Darlinstone Dubar is a player that I really can’t peg down. Is he a guard? Is he an undersized four? I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Kid plays his butt off and puts himself in positions to have success, as he did in this game grabbing a team-high eight rebounds, six of them offensive, and scoring seven points in 22 minutes.
“He’s just one that kind of grows on you. When he first got here, I wasn’t sure what he was going to do or how he was going to do early,” Prohm said. “He just keeps growing on you because he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and he’s around the ball. He does simple things and tough things. Kind of playing him at the three and the four some. I thought he had good activity in the zone on the baseline, six offensive rebounds, eight total. Was a plus 28 which that stuff sometimes can be disjointed a little bit, but played 22 minutes. I was really proud. I thought he did a really good job.”
Jaden Walker came in to knock down a 3-pointer late in the first half when Iowa State was cutting into Pine Bluff’s lead. Dudley Blackwell showed some flashes too, dishing two assists and snagging a steal in eight minutes of play.
The class’ headliner, Xavier Foster, was the last member of the class to enter the game on Sunday, largely due to the numerous maladies that have held him out of practice during the preseason, but the minutes he played should give some reasons for optimism.
He scored four points on a pair of dunks and grabbed one rebound while playing the last nine minutes of the game.
There are big guys who just have an air or vibe about them that in some way radiates their unlocked potential. I don’t know if that is even the best way to describe it, but it’s a “you know it when you see it” type of thing.
When Foster is on the floor you just get a sense that is a kid who is going to be really freaking good once he figures everything out.
You can tell he is behind in learning the systems on offense and defense as he appeared a little timid in making decisions on when to cut, when to post up and when to slide over to try and block a shot. Those are things that will come, but the natural instincts are there.
“I think you saw in those nine minutes that he played, whenever he can start getting some consistency, whenever he can get his strength underneath him, his legs underneath him, whenever he can put multiple weeks together, his upside is tremendous,” Prohm said. “Finished a couple around the rim. He’s just got to get more reps in practice so he understands more about what we’re doing on both ends. I was pleased with him. It was a 10 point game with about nine to go. Threw him out there and let him play. I thought he did a good job.”
1 – Losing Tre Jackson for two to three weeks due to a sprained left knee is killer for this team. Jackson is someone who already has a year in the program and that’s a valuable thing to have with as many newcomers as this program has right now.
He also brings that bulldog, ready to do the dirty work mentality this team is really going to need. Jackson isn’t the flashiest player, but you know he’s going to bring his lunch pail and get after it day after day.
Here’s to hoping he can return healthy sooner rather than later.
“Tre’s a big loss for us right now. You’ve just got to deal with it though. He’s been out. We weren’t sure how long it was going to be. We were hoping we’d have him back for today. We found out yesterday after the MRI it was a little bit more serious,” Prohm said. “He just brings an energy and a defensive mindset to the floor and he’s another guy that can make shots and he’s played in the program a year. He’s a big loss. The goal hopefully is maybe after Iowa get him back for the start of conference would be ideal. We’ll see what happens. The biggest thing is getting him healthy and keeping him engaged. He’s a big loss for us because everybody’s got to step up a spot.”
2 – If Sunday can be any sort of indication, rebounding could be somewhat of an adventure for this team, especially when they start playing small. While Dubar was active on the offensive glass, the team’s most active defensive rebound was Bolton.
Bolton is the point guard and not a big one at that. While it is nice to see Bolton in there mixing it up and coming out with seven boards, it is concerning to see your fifth-year senior center grabbing zero rebounds in 20 minutes like Solomon Young did against Pine Bluff.
George Conditt grabbed four boards during his 13 minutes, but the game saw the Cyclones out-rebounded by five and allow 11 offensive boards.
This is a spot where the Cyclones really need someone to emerge and solidify themselves as the team’s biggest glass eater. Ideally, that would be Young or Conditt, but someone has to step up to be the guy dead set on clearing out opponent misses at every opportunity.
“I thought we were just okay on the glass,” Prohm said. “Dubar, most of his came offensively, but Bolton had six defensive. We’ve got to get Young rebounding. He had 20 minutes and no rebounds. We’ve got to get him rebounding. George had four in 13 minutes. We can’t give (next opponent) South Dakota State multiple opportunities (on Wednesday) so we’re going to have to continue to harp on that.”
3 – I started the column with this, but it just will not be the same inside Hilton Coliseum this year. Hopefully, there will be a point when fans are allowed in for games, but it won’t feel right without it packed to the gills.
We’ve known for a long time it was going to be this way. But it really just hit me for the first time as I walked across the parking lot Sunday morning.
At the end of it all, Hilton Coliseum is just a building. The people inside it are the ones who make it what it is.
The people are the magic.
The Cyclones didn’t need the magic on Sunday, but there will be a day soon when they do. When that moment comes, it just won’t feel right without the ear splitting roar propelling them forward.
It was a weird experience for this season opener. Nothing felt the same and it had nothing to do with the basketball.
It was that the magic was sitting at home.