AMES — At halftime of the win at Texas Tech, Iowa State men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm threw down a challenge to his young center.
Freshman Solomon Young listened as his coach laid it all out. He didn’t think the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder played to his capability. Young had established higher expectations for himself in the previous three games.
“(Prohm) was saying, ‘Don’t get frustrated,’” Young said. “‘You’re a blue collar dude so you’ve got to come into the second half and play the game like you know you can play and be aggressive.’ That’s what I came out there and did and finished strong.”
Young came out of the locker room and tallied six points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals and helped the Cyclones (18-9, 10-5) snag their fifth road win in Big 12 play. He’s averaged 9.0 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 69.6 percent from the field in four games as a starter.
The inside presence Young has brought has vastly altered the identity of the ISU frontcourt. There won’t be any greater need for that to continue than when Iowa State hosts No. 9 Baylor on Saturday in Hilton Coliseum (3 p.m. ESPN).
“I think we’re playing better right now than we have all year, but I think just having a rim protector, a guy that can muscle up guys down low and rebound and defend and screen, he’s been a big part of our success over the last month,” Prohm said of Young. “It’ll help.
“Obviously Baylor has a really good front line and so we need all the help we can get against those guys.”
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Baylor (23-5, 10-5) starts Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., who are 6-foot-10 and 7-feet, respectively on its front line. The pair combine to score 26.4 points per game with 16.5 rebounds.
Young played just 12 minutes in the first meeting with the Bears, scoring five points with no rebounds and four fouls. His emergence in the last four games — where he’s played at least 24 minutes in each game — has him more ready for this second go-around.
“They’re big, but I like playing against bigger dudes that are slower,” Young said with a grin. “I think I can use my versatility on the court and try to get around the big guys.”
Baylor bothers most teams with its length and heavy use of zone. Iowa State has slowly improved its outside shot since the nonconference season — it is currently 25th on KenPom.com in 3-point percentage.
Guards Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long have made a combined 63 3s in the last nine games while point guard Monte Morris has averaged just one turnover per 48.4 minutes in conference play. With Young’s play inside, there is one X-factor that could push the Cyclones past the Bears: forward Deonte Burton.
In two of the last three games, Burton has at least 17 points, six rebounds and three assists and has made 29 3-pointers this season — more than his first three years combined. His 6-foot-5 frame and athleticism is part of a formula to attack the basket and neutralize some of that BU length.
“If I’m having a bad scoring game, that doesn’t affect how I feel about me,” Burton said. “I’m not down on myself. I’m still engaged. I still cheer on my teammates. When I first got to college if I wasn’t having a good scoring day, I would sulk. I just learned that there are going to be ups and downs.”
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