116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State proved it can do one thing few expected possible against top-ranked Baylor entering the season: Hang with the defending national champion Bears.
What the eighth-ranked Cyclones couldn’t do, however, is truly threaten to win as Baylor escaped a sold-out Hilton Coliseum Saturday with a 77-72 Big 12-opening victory.
Still, the divide between the two programs’ fortunes — a gaping chasm last season as ISU limped to a 2-22 finish — has narrowed greatly.
“(It’s) not as far as everybody thinks,” Cyclone guard Izaiah Brockington said when asked how much separates the two teams now. “I feel like we’re close. I feel like we could have came out with a win today. That’s a really good team. They made tough shots. They made big-time shots. They rebounded — and we’ve just got to do better executing what we wanted to do. We didn’t get those done.”
ISU forward Tristan Enaruna led all scorers with a career-high 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds — with four coming on the offensive end. He also snared three steals. Brockington added 18 points and eight boards for the Cyclones.
“We’ve got to just keep doing what we’ve been doing and doing it even harder,” Enaruna said. “We’ve got to watch film, see what we did wrong this game to see the areas that we can improve on, and we’ve got to execute those in practice.”
Baylor (13-0, 1-0 Big 12) never trailed and maintained at least a two-possession lead for the final 31 minutes of the game.
ISU (12-1, 0-1) shot just 1-for-14 from 3-point range, but sprung a late 9-0 run to slash a 14-point deficit to just five, 70-65, on Tyrese Hunter’s basket with 2:17 left.
But the Bears had an answer — as they always did on Saturday and throughout the past two seasons.
Adam Flagler drilled a mid-range jumper 27 seconds later and the Cyclones could get no closer in the final moments.
“I felt like the competitive spirit was certainly there for 40 minutes,” said ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team forced Baylor to cough up a season-high 19 turnovers. “Overall, from an effort and energy standpoint, diving for close balls, rotating defensively, taking charges, effort on the boards, those sort of things, our guys did a great job.”
Baylor won its ninth consecutive game against top-10 teams and has won 41 of its past 43 games overall. The Bears’ length and athleticism hindered the Cyclones’ performance on the perimeter, but doesn’t completely explain the multitude of misfires.
“It’s getting the right shot for the right guys at the right time,” Otzelberger said. “And we need to have the confidence to knock those down. We believe in our guys. We spend a lot of time on player development and shot making and we want them to have the confidence in those key moments to do that.”
Baylor exudes confidence. Suddenly, so do the Cyclones, but the execution must be nearly perfect in order to defeat a team of the Bears’ caliber rather than simply narrow the gap in terms of production and perception.
“I don’t think about where we are relative to anybody else,” Otzelberger said. “My task every day is to try to continue to bring out the confidence (and) the unity with our group. I’m just going to do everything that I can to continue to keep focus on getting these guys better and playing at their best. Then we’ll see where we’re at game in and game out.”