INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
Independence nearly matc ... »
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AMES — The Iowa State Cyclones are playing their best basketball of the season.
Point guard Monte Morris thinks it can go up another notch.
“We’re still waiting for that night when everybody is on fire,” Morris said. “I feel like it’s coming soon. It’s the best time to play basketball, going into March. I’m glad we’re peaking right now as opposed to early December.”
After suffering its biggest home loss in four years a few weeks ago, Iowa State has won four of its last five games culminating with a 13-point home win against TCU. The win pushed the Cyclones (17-9, 9-5) into a tie for second in the Big 12 with Baylor and West Virginia.
The importance of that win, and its timing, has Iowa State sitting pretty as a road trip to Texas Tech Monday (8 p.m., ESPNU) awaits. As tempting as it might be for this team to look at the big picture, Coach Steve Prohm insists on keeping the focus narrow.
“Our focus just needs to be on (Texas Tech),” Prohm said. “We’re playing well, but this league can humble you quick if you start praising yourself too much. You hear what the critics say, but that’s good because I think that’s refocused everybody within the program.”
Part of that effort of refocusing the players was shaking up the starting lineup by plugging in freshman forward Solomon Young alongside the veterans. Last week he combined for 22 points and 16 rebounds, but his presence around the basket is something the Cyclones have been waiting for all season.
Young has been the most noticeable piece, but Deonte Burton’s 18 points and six rebounds — coupled with his improved shot selection — is a factor. Donovan Jackson has become a knockdown shooter and Darrell Bowie added six points and four rebounds against the Horned Frogs after not playing Wednesday.
The stars haven’t aligned for everybody on the same night yet, but Iowa State hasn’t been short on production from the majority of its rotation.
“There were some rocky patches to start, but we knew we were going to be here,” said Naz Mitrou-Long, who has 75 3-pointers this season. “We believed in ourselves, and here we are.
“With that being said, we just want to go 1-0. That’s been our motto the whole year. Win the day. It’s an awesome position to be in, but we’re not done.”
The Red Raiders (17-10, 5-9) have lost four of their last six — including a double-overtime loss at West Virginia — but beat No. 4 Baylor in Lubbock last Monday. Iowa State opened conference play by beating Texas Tech 63-56 on Dec. 30, but has lost three of its last five games in Lubbock.
The stakes for this season aren’t centered on simply getting into the tournament anymore. Now it’s about how these last four regular-season games can affect seeding.
“We’re trying to beat Texas Tech on Monday night, that’d be one win for us and that’s it,” Prohm said. “If you do that and stay focused on the present, then you have a chance to continue to get better.”
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