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Iowa State men’s basketball seeks to end drought at West Virginia
Cyclones have lost in last 7 trips to Morgantown
AMES — Abdel Nader scored nine of his Iowa State-high 19 points in the final five minutes. Georges Niang chipped in 16 points and Monte Morris dished out a game-high six assists.
So what game?
That would be the Cyclones’ most recent men’s basketball win at West Virginia — a pulse-pounding, 74-72, triumph on Jan. 10, 2015.
It’s obviously been eight years since that happened and No. 11 ISU seeks to end that long drought Wednesday at 6 p.m. against the Mountaineers in Morgantown, W. Va.
“They’re a team that prides themselves on being the aggressor and especially on their court, where they overwhelm you,” said Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12) head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team owns five top-10 wins the past two seasons. “They do that with ball pressure, they do it with rebounding.”
The basketball metrics love West Virginia. KenPom ranks the Mountaineers (14-9, 3-7) five spots ahead of ISU at No. 14 nationally largely because of balance. West Virginia boasts a top-20 offense and top-40 defense and the only metric it falters in is “luck,” where it checks in at 351st among 362 Division I teams.
That may be starting to change, though.
The Mountaineers pummeled Oklahoma, 93-61, on Saturday and have knocked off three top-17 teams this season. Six of their seven conference setbacks have come by eight or fewer points.
“We’re going to have to play really well to be successful there and we’re gonna have to do what we can to make them not play as well by those same things,” Otzelberger said.
One of those things — forcing turnovers — is the Cyclones’ chief strength. ISU leads the nation in defensive turnover percentage (26.9). West Virginia excels at guarding deep into the shot clock, which could pose problems for the Cyclones’ deliberate-by-design offense.
“Where we’ve had challenges, it’s been more because we get to that point in the clock and either somebody’s pressure pushes us out or guys on our team feel like they need to go make a play and help our team individually,” Otzelberger said. “So that’s where I think the possessions do get longer because we want all five guys incorporated. We want everybody to be a factor.”
Enter ISU’s true freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey. He ranks among the top three in the Big 12 in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio and steals since conference play began and is arguably coming off his best game — a nine-point, eight-rebound and 10-assist performance in Saturday’s 68-53 win over No. 9 Kansas.
“I feel like that’s really my main job with our team, is just to command the ball,” Lipsey said. “Get plays for my teammates.”
That’s true today and it was true eight years ago when Morris, Lipsey’s childhood idol, led the Cyclones’ offense. ISU has lost seven straight games at West Virginia. The Cyclones also have squandered leads of 16 points and 23 points in their last two conference road losses.
“There’s got to be a stubborn, tough grit to say, ‘all right, the last few games on the road, if we play this way or play that way, we would have been able to be successful,’” Otzelberger said. “‘And now we’re gonna go execute and do that.’”