116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — While the opponent might not be another Big 12 juggernaut for No. 23 Iowa State, the buildup for Saturday’s matchup in Hilton Coliseum against the Missouri Tigers is set to be another battle of attrition in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
And to no one’s surprise, the Cyclones are preaching defense and attitude for Saturday’s meeting between the former Big 12 foes.
“We’ve just gotta go out there and play our game and play with our physicality and dominate on the defensive end,” senior forward George Conditt IV said.
That commitment to defensive intensity has paid off for freshman guard Tyrese Hunter. Hunter, hailing from Racine, Wis., has improved his level of play in recent games and his full-on embrace of Iowa State’s philosophy earned him some national spotlight.
Hunter was named to the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Watch List on Thursday, one of three freshmen to make the list. Hunter leads the Big 12 with 42 steals and is first in steals nationally among freshmen.
Hunter’s recent uptick in production is nothing new for him. He’s lived a basketball life predicated on defense.
“It’s a big passion of mine, just coming out of high school I could just give credit to my high school coach, Nick Bennett,” Hunter said Friday. “I remember my first day of high school practice, we didn’t touch a basketball for a long time.”
“I carried that into college and these guys put it on me hard that defense is going to be a big key.”
The Cyclones will need that level of play from Hunter and others on Saturday against Missouri. The Tigers have shown the ability to bring defensive pressure on any given night. They also have shown some fight in recent weeks, including taking No. 1 Auburn to the wire on Tuesday in a 55-54 loss.
While Missouri (8-11) comes into Saturday’s tilt No. 12 in the SEC standings, Conditt said the Cyclones can’t let the Tigers’ record and overall resume affect their overall effort.
“It’s a big challenge,” Conditt said. “(Missouri) isn’t a team that’s defined by their record. We can’t take them lightly. We can’t take anyone lightly.”
Missouri could present a matchup problem for the Cyclones on the offensive end, with the Tigers holding down defense at the 3-point line. Since conference play began, Missouri has held opponents to 27.9 percent from 3 (second in the SEC).
Iowa State found success Wednesday at Oklahoma State from beyond the arc (12-28), but still is shooting below 30 percent from 3 in its last eight games.
But the Cyclones have shown they can match the Tigers’ defense and have the ability to make Saturday another rock fight. Iowa State is allowing 61.0 points per game and is holding opponents to 41.1 percent shooting from the field and 26.9 percent behind the arc. Eleven of the Cyclones’ 20 opponents have scored 64 or fewer points.
But as confident as Hunter is in his own abilities and the Cyclones, he’s learned that everyone at the college level can bring it any night. Individuals can shine from time to time, but learning on the fly in the Big 12 has taught Hunter the importance of staying ready at any moment.
View an opponent as a pushover? Hunter said good luck.
“I always tell myself, ‘when the best meets the best, the difference is going to be a little bit,’” Hunter said. “The little bit is diving on the floor, playing defense.”