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.
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AMES — When Iowa State men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm went back and watched the film, he almost didn’t recognize the team he saw.
The last time the Cyclones had allowed 85 points in a double-digit home loss, Naz Mitrou-Long was the only current player on the roster. In that 13-point loss to West Virginia on Jan. 31, a switch got flipped.
Looking back on that moment, Prohm saw it as one of two defining moments that have helped spark a turnaround.
No. 24 Iowa State will be at No. 10 West Virginia on Friday in the regular season finale (6 p.m. ESPN2).
“We are a different basketball team right now,” Prohm said. “I just think we have a different confidence than we did that game, to be honest. That’s my opinion.”
The Mountaineers’ (23-7, 11-6) style makes them one of the unique matchups in the country. They pride themselves on turnovers — leading the nation in turnover percentage (29.2) — and sub five in, five out while forcing opponents to 15.7-second possessions on average.
Success for the Cyclones (20-9, 12-5) means taking care of the ball and playing their own tempo.
Iowa State is No. 2 on KenPom.com in turnover percentage (13.9) with point guard Monte Morris the catalyst for offensive production — he owns a 6.4 assist-to-turnover ratio in seven games against West Virginia.
“They’re going to try to be aggressive with me and trap me a lot,” Morris said. “I’ve just got to try to be more ball dominant and be more aggressive, and just man up and get the ball when two guys are trying to take me away and get into offense and things. This go around will definitely be different.”
Morris’ life is made easier with guards Matt Thomas and Mitrou-Long around him. The pair has combined to make 158 3-pointers this season, which is most among Big 12 teammates. Deonte Burton and Solomon Young provide help in the frontcourt.
The X-Factor against a high-pressure team could be junior point guard Donovan Jackson.
Jackson’s ball-handling skills take some pressure off Morris, but his outside shooting has become a real asset in the last month. He’s 18-for-29 from beyond the arc in the last 10 games and 58.5 percent from 3-point range this season.
“You just have to play smart and you have to be tough,” Jackson said. “You have to match their intensity. They come out and they’re going to be on you the whole entire game and you have to match that. That’s what I learned.”
Iowa State is guaranteed a second-place finish in the Big 12, but would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament with a win Friday. If the Cyclones lose, they would be the three seed if Baylor loses at Texas or the four seed if Baylor wins.
“I do think this team has another ceiling to get to with the way we’re going right now,” Prohm said. “We’re going in the right direction, and if we can go one more step then we can be one of the elite teams. I truly believe that.”
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