MBB: Struggling ISU seeks to match No. 8 West Virginia’s intensity in Big 12 road opener

Dec 11, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard Joe Toussaint (1) controls the ball as Iowa State Cyclones guard Tyler Harris (1) and forward Xavier Foster (10) defend during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Match. Their. Intensity.

That’s the mantra being repeated by the struggling Iowa State men’s basketball team as it prepares to meet No. 8 West Virginia at 8 p.m. Friday (ESPNU) in Morgantown.

“We’ve got to match their intensity,” Cyclone guard Tyler Harris said. “We’ve got to bring it to them and don’t let them bring the first punch towards us. So we’ve got to come out of the gate swinging.”

 It’s usually tough to match the pressing and defensive-minded Mountaineers (6-1, 0-0 Big 12) in any aggressiveness-based category, but it is the only possible formula for keeping the Cyclones (1-3, 0-1) in contention against Bob Huggins’s talented and deep team.

 West Virginia (6-1) has won eight of the last 10 regular-season matchups with ISU — and this season’s lone loss came against top-ranked Gonzaga (87-82).

 “Got a great challenge in front of us, but excited about it,” the Cyclones’ head coach Steve Prohm said. “It’s a great opportunity for us. They’re really good and we’ve got to match their physical toughness 15 feet and in. We’ve got to do a great job of breaking their pressure, which I think in years past, we’ve done that. We’ve got to make sure we get a good shot every time down, but at the end of the day when we’ve beaten them and had success against them we’ve matched their physicality and toughness.”

 ISU is coming off a deflating 74-65 home loss to Kansas State in the conference season opener. The Cyclones were never within two possessions of the lead until pulling within five in the game’s closing moments and the reasons for their struggles span both ends of the floor.

 ISU ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring defense (78.3) and eighth in scoring offense (72.5).

 And one of the Mountaineers’ strengths — forcing turnovers — was the bane of the Cyclones against the Wildcats. ISU coughed up 13 first-half turnovers and 18 overall.

“I for sure feel like we can cut back on (turnovers),” Harris said. “And just keep the pace going and the movement, kind of not going stagnant.”

 The Cyclones have been shooting the ball relatively well, especially from inside the arc. ISU is tied for third in the league with a 47.1 field goal percentage, but is eighth in 3-point shooting (32.4%).

 “We’ve got to attack,” Prohm said. “We’ve got to be aggressive. We’ve got to play off two feet in the paint because they flood to the ball so much, to where if you’re playing off one foot or are reckless, they’re gonna draw charges, they’re gonna block shots.”

 The Cyclones are also being outshot at the foul line at an alarming rate. Opponents are 68 of 85 at the line (80%). ISU is 29-for-40 (72.5%).

 “We’re just not getting to the line a lot,” Prohm said. “We’ve got to do that on the road — you’ve got to control the glass, you’ve got to control the free-throw line. And we’ve got to control tempo.”

 Again, a tall task against West Virginia and beyond in a once again loaded Big 12.

 “They play hard,” ISU freshman forward Darlinstone Dubar said of the Mountaineers. “They do everything hard, play defense, rebound, so we’ve just got to be strong with the ball and match their intensity.”


 Prohm said starting guard Tre Jackson will likely remain out for at least the remainder of the calendar year. The sophomore guard injured his left knee in practice late last month and Prohm said he just started jogging Wednesday.

 “We miss him,” Prohm said, “If you know anything about him, character, toughness, some leadership — he brings a lot of intangibles to our team. He guards the opponent’s best player. He’s gotten bigger and stronger from last year and he’s a guy that can really spread the defense. I think he’s been a great cheerleader for us right now, but we need to get him back.”

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