AMES, Ia. — Among the emails hitting the inbox long after Saturday’s 20-point loss at Top 25 Texas Tech, in which there were times in the second half the Cyclones were barely competitive, was this six-word plea:
“Begging For A Win Tuesday Night.”
That’s what it’s boiled down to for this 8-9 team that’s won just one of its four Big 12 Conference games. It’s come down to hoping upon hope for a victory, at Hilton Coliseum, against the last-place team in the conference.
I don’t know if that makes Tuesday at 7 p.m., against Oklahoma State inside the building that was once tagged magical the most important game this season, but let’s assume it’s among the most significant — and here’s why:
Iowa State has lost six out of its past eight games — two by 20 or more points (including by 26 against Kansas), another by 18, one by 13, one by 12 and another by two in overtime against a mediocre TCU outfit in Fort Worth.
Win, and there’s at least some momentum heading into Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge game at No. 16 Auburn. Lose against the Big 12’s last-place team, and I don’t know how the Cyclones escape the tailspin.
A major theme of coach Steve Prohm’s weekly news conference Monday was confidence — mostly, confidence that most of those missed three-point shots will eventually start to fall.
“This is our toughest stretch of the (season) right now,” Prohm said after his news conference Monday. “That’s what you sign up for in this league. We’ve got to be able to respond, compete, and put ourselves in a position where late in games, we have a chance to win, and then see if we can break through a finish.”
That’s tough, considering this program — for a long time — has been built on good three-point shooting. It’s tough, considering this team is blasting away from the arc at a 30.9% clip — 273rd nationally. It’s tough, because each prominent three-point shooter had better percentages during the last season they played.
It’s tough, because the more players miss, the more they continue to mentally press. The more they press and misfire, the more confidence they lose.
“We’ve played well at times this year,” Prohm said. “The Florida A&M-TCU week set us back a little bit; we’ve got to fight our way out of it.
“There is no easy week in this league. You’ve got be able to keep getting punched, and then keep trying to figure out ways to punch back.”
I don’t know if it would have changed the season, however not losing 70-68 at home against lowly Florida A&M in one of the worst losses in school history, and not losing in overtime at TCU — that might have changed some of the negative narrative.
“There’s no question that we have the talent and the pieces, it’s just those mental lulls — 4 or 5-minute stretches where we completely take ourselves out of the game (and) give up big runs,” veteran Mike Jacobson said. “That’s what hurts us the most.
“You’ve got some young guys that maybe haven’t won at a high level before — that don’t understand what it takes, or how locked-in you have to be, or how hard it is in the Big 12 to win games.”
Fan negativity is justified, given last Saturday’s 72-52 loss at Texas Tech in which the Cyclones missed 19 of 22 three-point attempts. It’s justified, because of a second half that included turnovers on five possessions in a row. It’s justified, because of 6-of-23 three-point shooting last Wednesday at Baylor. It’s justified because the team they watch has shot below 30% from the arc in nine of 17 games. They’re shooting just 28.7% from three-point range in the Big 12.
That’s what’s become the most toxic talking point, because until this season, this has been a very good long-range shooting program. That’s the rub.
“I’m trying not to make it about offense, but when you go 3-for-22 — and it seems like we’re doing that a lot — it’s going to be really hard to win games,” Jacobson said before practice at Hilton Coliseum Monday. “Try to hold teams to 50-60 points is what it looks like we’re going to have to do.
“We’ve got guys that work on (shooting) all the time. For whatever reason, it isn’t going in the basket.”
What about not working so much on shooting before and after practice, I asked?
“Save the makes? We might have to try it out,” Jacobson said. “It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. I feel like we have good shooters. I feel like we have guys that can put the ball in the basket, but for whatever reason, it’s not going in.
“It’s really hard to win when you go 3-for-22 from three. That’s kind of ridiculous, (but) you don’t want to make it where you’re not taking open shots.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of five decades. Reach him at email@example.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.
Source: Des Moines Register