AMES — Iowa State’s men’s basketball team saves its annual Senior Day ceremony for after its final home game, and Saturday’s was a heaping helping of bittersweet.
The sweet was the salute to Nick Weiler-Babb, Marial Shayok and Zoran Talley. The bitter was the 80-73 loss to a Texas Tech team that celebrated clinching a share of the Big 12 championship on the Hilton Coliseum court, and in its visitors’ dressing room.
“I thought we were complete today,” ISU Coach Steve Prohm said. “We just weren’t good enough to finish it.”
By “complete,” he meant the defense-lacking, undisciplined, selfish brand of ball the Cyclones displayed in their 90-75 loss at West Virginia three days earlier gave way to hustle, ball movement and teamwork. Nonetheless, it was Iowa State’s fifth loss in its last six games, a hard fall for a team once considered a title threat itself.
“I know we haven’t been as good the last couple weeks as the majority of the season,” Prohm told the fans before introducing his seniors.
“You can say that again,” interrupted a lout from somewhere in the crowd, loudly enough to be heard by everyone.
“Thanks for your support,” Prohm immediately fired back with sarcasm, then went back to addressing the several thousand from the crowd of 14,384 who stayed for the salute to the seniors.
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“I probably shouldn’t have, to be honest with you,” Prohm said later about his retort. “That’s one of 10,000 (fans).”
The fan, however, did represent a lot of sentiment about how Iowa State closed the regular season. It finished 20-11 overall, 9-9 in the Big 12. Before the blowout loss at West Virginia was a blowout loss at Texas. This was the third defeat in the Cyclones’ last four home games.
The past week was a nightmare. Shayok, who Texas Tech Coach Chris Beard said will play “in the NBA for a long time,” broke a pinky toe after practice in a locker room incident no one sounds candid about, and couldn’t play at West Virginia.
“The door just kind of clipped my toe,” Shayok said Friday. OK.
We saw forward Michael Jacobson yell and get in the face of teammate Talen Horton-Tucker at West Virginia, and we saw center Cameron Lard laughing on the bench at another point in that game. We didn’t see Lard play Saturday.
So, it’s been rotten near the end of a long season for a team that wasn’t when it was 18-5.
But at least on Saturday, this was an entertaining scrap between two teams playing hard for 40 minutes, with the Red Raiders not securing the triumph until the final 30 seconds. There were 11 lead changes. No one with eyes and manners faulted the Cyclones’ desire.
“It definitely felt like progress,” said Shayok, who had a team-high 17 points, then limped to the locker room after getting honored for his career.
As for the injured toe, “It didn’t feel too great.”
Texas Tech, with four seniors in its rotation, played like the more experienced squad. However, a sophomore shouldered its load.
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NBA mock-draft maestros who put ISU freshman Talen Horton-Tucker on their first-round lists at times this winter now turn to 6-foot-6 Tech soph Garrett Culver. He was sensational inside and out in smoothly racking up 31 points.
“He made lottery pick-type plays today,” Prohm said.
Iowa State was still a No. 5 NCAA Tournament seed in ESPN.com’s bracketology this weekend. This team did beat Tech, Ole Miss, Kansas State and Oklahoma on the road, you know.
It’s the kind of club that could circle the drain altogether the next two weeks. It could also make big trouble for anyone it meets at the Big 12 and NCAA tourneys.
“We’re kind of trying to take the step of making sure we’re playing for each other and making sure that we’re happy for somebody else’s success,” Weiler-Babb said. “I think we did that today and we grew and we’re ready for the postseason.”
If the Cyclones hang around in Kansas City a while and then do some winning in the NCAAs, the way the regular season ended becomes a blip. College basketball is funny that way. It’s funny as in odd, period.
“It’s been a hell of a week,” Shayok said.
You can say that again.
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