Jan 5, 2021; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Kai Jones (22) drives the ball against Iowa State Cyclones guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (5) in the first half at the Frank C. Erwin Jr Special Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman via USA TODAY NETWORK
It’s not often that playing in a 39-point loss feels like a blessing, but these, of course, are unprecedented times.
COVID-19 finally hit Iowa State’s already-struggling team hard a few weeks ago — and now some key starters are trickling back into the lineup.
The first, top 3-point shooter Jalen Coleman-Lands, returned to score seven points off the bench in the Cyclones’ stinging 95-56 setback at Mississippi State. Two or three more prime contributors could be reactivated for Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Big 12 game against No. 17 West Virginia (11-5, 4-3) at Hilton Coliseum.
“I’m always optimistic, but I’m also realistic,” Coleman-Lands said. “So going into this as we start to get some of our guys back, making sure that we know what we need to work on; what we need to bring to the table individually, role-wise, especially (since) we were able to watch, including myself (is important).”
Starters such as Coleman-Lands, Javan Johnson, Solomon Young and Tre Jackson not only watched as ISU fell to 2-9 overall and 0-6 in Big 12 play. They learned, too. How much they’re needed. How imperative it is to find some way to mesh in order to avoid routs such as Saturday’s 39-point debacle… How difficult it is to simply cohere enough to have a chance to snare a win.
They also know — as this season has cruelly proven — there are few paths to potential victory for this team, especially in Big 12 play, and even before COVID-19-related issues roiled the roster. Maybe that can put a chip on their collective shoulders and cause chemistry to deepen. Perhaps that can turn long odds into an upset win or two.
That’s a lot of “ifs,” but that’s what we’re left with as the season shifts toward the second half.
“These next few games we’ve got to focus on just cherishing each other now that we have more people coming back,” Coleman-Lands said. “Make the most out of it — knowing that we’re capable of winning. That’s what I’m really looking forward to with this next span of games.”
The Cyclones played one of their best games of the season in the previous meeting with West Virginia, but fell 70-65, in Morgantown. ISU took a one-point lead on a pair of Rasir Bolton free throws with 35 seconds left, but the Mountaineers scored the final six points to secure the win.
“We played really, really well (in Morgantown),” Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm said. “Really should have won the game. Had great opportunities to win and fell short. … I’m not looking far, far ahead. Stay in the moment and get these guys better. We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. That’s life. So you’ve got to handle it, you’ve got to keep pushing forward and you’ve got to be greater than your circumstances. You’ve got to overcome all your fears and you’ve got to push forward.”
Coleman-Lands said the Cyclones were still acclimating to playing with one another before the COVID-19 pause hit. Four games were postponed. Four starters’ seasons went on hold. No basketball could be played — first for everyone, then just for them.
“It was tough,” Coleman-Lands said. “I tried to stay productive.”
As productive as possible, anyway. He stretched at home. Did a little yoga. Worked on some community engagement projects.
Now he’s fully back — and more will join him on Tuesday.
How much that means in terms of finally eking out ISU’s first conference win remains unclear, but at least those hopes go from razor-thin to a few notches above that.
“What you don’t want to do is not leave everything out there and then have regrets, given the circumstances,” Coleman-Lands said. “You still don’t want to leave this game, or leave a practice, or leave any opportunity up for grabs, where you question if, ‘Aw, I could have done more.’ That’s my thing. The things out of our control such as people being out, there’s nothing we can do about that. But as far as when we do know we can play, or when you’re healthy, you leave everything you got out there and let the rest take care of itself. And bringing the focus and all the other intangibles within our control is something you’re capable of bringing every day. … All it takes is one (win) to snowball. So we’re just trying to get that one and then try to get it going from there.”