Iowa State Cyclones center Audi Crooks (55) drives to the basket around Drake Bulldogs guard Shannon Fornshell (4) during the third quarter at Knapp Center on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
DES MOINES – Iowa State’s early-season practices this year have included a certain amount of inconsistencies. From not having the entire team available on any given day, to a young crop of freshmen transitioning into playing college basketball, there are a lot of expected growing pains cropping up.
Those inconsistencies showed during the team’s 83-57 loss to Drake — one that included a quarter in which Iowa State did not make a shot from the field and later came back from a 20-point deficit to take the lead.
“(We’re) going to have moments like this, and yeah, some of it’s in practice — it’s been the worst injury preseason I’ve ever had in my entire life for coaching,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “And so, it’s been a little bit harder to get some of that. I mean, I want that. That’s not an excuse. It had nothing to do with today. But what we’ve got to get it figured out and get our guys in the right spots. And that’s, that’s on us.”
Iowa State and Drake were tied with 4:40 to play in Sunday’s game at the Knapp Center, before Drake ultimately hit more shots in the waning moments than Iowa State could to rebuild a lead and pull away.
It’s part of the bigger plan for this team.
But now, for those younger players wearing cardinal and gold, they’ve seen a comeback partially fulfilled and they’ve seen what happens when plays aren’t made down the stretch.
“I think the identity of our team is (that) we’re gonna play the game and represent our school the way we should,” Fennelly said. “We’re gonna lose games, and we’re probably gonna lose a lot. You know, given who we have to play on our schedule and things like that. But, I think the identity is, for a young team, they’re very connected, which is a tribute to them, especially the five freshmen, and then you add what we’ve added. So, they’re gonna show up, they’re gonna do the things that that they need to do. Sometimes, you’ve got to learn the hard way.”
Iowa State learned the hard way watching Drake’s Taylor McAulay drop a team-high 27 points, six of which came on 3-pointers.
Grace Berg found her way to 22 points and Katie Dinnebier added another 20.
“Like our team right now, and we’ll probably have this discussion in March, (but) you are identified by how many points you score,” Fennelly said of his players. “’I don’t care about defense a whole lot yet.’ And that’s normal for a young person. Now, there isn’t a Division 1 player that I’m aware of, at this level, I would say Drake would probably be the same, that was recruited because they’re a great defensive player. They score and then they learn to play defense, and, and that comes to attention to detail to the scouting report or all those kinds of things. But that’s the thing we go through. And when you play team like this, they expose you. I mean, they’re smart, they’re tough for all their skill. And when we made a mistake – that’s why they’re good – they made us pay for it. That’s a credit to them, and hopefully something we will improve on.”
There were other positives for Iowa State, however.
Audi Crooks played her most complete game yet as a Cyclone, and dominated under the basket on her way to 23 points.
Hannah Belanger was able to connect on three triples and finished as the only other Cyclone in double figures with 11 points.
And of course, the 22-point swing that Iowa State put on Drake in the third quarter and opening minutes of the fourth will serve as an extremely valuable example moving forward. At the very least, in the back of their heads, they know they’ve come back from a big deficit. That will go a long way, as long as this game is remembered.
“I would say just mentality,” Crooks said of the reason Iowa State found itself down by 20 points at what time. “I think we knew it was gonna be tough. We didn’t know it was gonna be this tough. I mean, Drake’s always a great program and this in-state battle is taken very, very seriously. And you know, I hate to use the excuse of youth, but it’s true. We’re very inexperienced, we’re young but we’re not going to allow that to be the reason why we lose games and that’s our main focus – to basically play catch up and get game-ready from the jump, and not in the second half.”
Iowa State will iron out its team in time.
There’s no switch that can be flipped to fix all of its issues, nor drum up the perfect recipe for success.
And they faced a talented team Sunday that very well could roll through the Missouri Valley Conference.
“That’s a really good team,” Fennelly said. “And we’re not we’re not the only ones that they’re going beat be in this building. I promise you that.”
The Cyclones have one more tune-up game on their schedule ahead of their midseason tournament, facing Southern on Monday, November 20 (6:30 p.m. ESPN+) at Hilton Coliseum.
There won’t be one, physical thing to look at for improvement on, but eliminating the inconsistencies whole heartedly will play a major role in determining this team’s success.