AMES — During a timeout with 4:28 left Saturday and its men’s basketball team up 73-71 against 18th-ranked Oklahoma, Iowa State’s pep band played Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
You don’t think of ISU as a mecca for angst-filled grunge youth, but the song’s title was fitting for the game at Hilton Coliseum. It featured a 19-year-old, 6-foot-2 freshman guard who can score a lot from inside and outside, and is a good passer for his age.
Oh, it also had Trae Young.
Here we are now, entertain us, said the Hilton Coliseum sellout crowd of 14,384 in support of a Cyclones team that came into the game in the Big 12’s basement at 3-8. That’s a long way down after going 12-6 in the league a year ago and winning the conference tournament.
But the price you pay for having two starting guards (Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long) who are now in the NBA is holes to fill the next season. One of the few Cyclone go-to guys this winter has been freshman Lindell Wigginton, who took the spotlight that follows Young everywhere and made it his Saturday in Iowa State’s 88-80 win.
Like Wigginton, Young is 19 and 6-foot-2. Young isn’t just a good passer for his age, he’s incredible. He leads the nation in scoring (29.5 points per game) and assists (9.4). No major-college player has ever finished a season tops in both. With 351 Division I teams, it seems almost impossible anyone could.
Young had 22 points and 11 assists in what will surely be his one and only game at Hilton. Wigginton, pressed into point guard duty because of the tendinitis in the left knee of senior Nick Weiler-Babb (7.0 assists per game), had five assists to go with his game-high 26 points.
It was Wigginton, not Young, who buried a 3-pointer with 1:06 left to give his team an 83-77 lead. It was Wigginton, not Young, who gleefully flung the ball in the air after dribbling out the final seconds.
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That was the national Player of the Year-to-be that Wigginton bested. That was someone averaging 13.7 more points per game in Big 12 play than anyone else in a great hoops league.
“In my mind,” Wigginton said, “I feel like I’m one of the best guards in the country.”
To which Mitrou-Long tweeted Saturday, “He feels that way because he is.”
Wigginton, mind you, did praise Young after the game, and vice versa. And hey, how good is Young when he got a double-double on the road with four steals to boot, yet didn’t play one of his better games?
Young had six turnovers, and was a frosty 1-of-8 from 3-point distance. He had been shooting 39.3 percent from that range.
“I had some open looks I didn’t hit,” Young said. “I usually do.” All his other baskets were layups, most hard-earned and clever.
Cyclone senior Donovan Jackson did a lot of the defensive work on Young.
“His change-of-pace is really good,” Jackson said. “He puts his head down and tries to go straight ahead. He draws fouls.
“If you know what he’s going to do, you can stop him, in my opinion.”
If Young had a teammate like Cameron Lard, Oklahoma would be better than 6-6 in the conference. NBA scouts and executives here to watch Young had to be jotting some notes for future NBA drafts when it comes to Wigginton and Lard.
By the way, Lard is a freshman, too.
The long, 6-foot-9, 20-year-old had 19 points, 17 rebounds, nine offensive boards, three steals and three assists. This is someone with only 10 career college starts. He likes to rebound. He really likes to dunk. And it looks like he enjoys passing.
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With the game tied at 77 with just under two minutes left, Lard had the ball in the paint. Instead of shooting, he whipped it to Jackson in the corner. The senior hit the open shot. It felt like a game-changing moment at the time, and it was.
Next season, Young will be in the NBA. Presumably, the pride of Nova Scotia (Wigginton) and Natchitoches (Louisiana’s Lard) will still be here.
It no longer will be teen spirit. But the angst of a losing Big 12 season should also be gone then.
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