AMES — This is the best Iowa State men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm has felt in about three weeks.
The Cyclones are in the midst of 2-6 stretch, had a practice scuffle that became public and lost to last-place West Virginia on Wednesday. But on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, Iowa State showed fight against No. 8 Texas Tech. The Cyclones played together, as a team, something Prohm had been searching for.
Iowa State (20-11, 9-9) lost 80-73 as Texas Tech (26-5, 14-4) clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title. Prohm knows the goal is winning, but he’s proud of the fight his team showed.
“I had to see (them come together),” Prohm said. “The ball was moving again. It got stagnant a few times, but I thought we competed better. We made tough plays, I thought we executed at times. I feel good. I feel a lot better about going into Baylor next week.”
Prohm recognizes not everything is fixed, but he feels like the team is not as splintered as it was recently.
“In the locker room, it’s the first time in a long time that — when we left Maui (in November) I felt complete from the standpoint of our team,” Prohm said. “We won at Kansas State, we won at Texas Tech — those are moments when you feel like we’re all together.
“As crazy as it sounds, this the first time in a long time I’ve felt complete to where it was like, ‘Alright man, we have to have each other’s backs. We have to get this thing and fight our way through it.’ I thought we competed the right way today.”
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The players feel it, too. The game was tied with four minutes left and Iowa State trailed by just three with 50 seconds left, but Texas Tech put Iowa State away.
“It definitely felt like progress,” said Marial Shayok, who was playing with a sprained pinky toe that kept him out against West Virginia. “I thought our team stayed together throughout the whole game. It’s just a matter of timing and they happened to have that last run. It definitely feels good moving forward.”
The Red Raiders went on an 8-0 run early in the second half. It was an opportunity for the Cyclones to fold like they had the previous three weeks.
“One of our biggest things was, once we get hit with a run, we don’t respond well,” Nick Weiler-Babb said. “Tonight, we took punches, traded punches and gave punches back and forth. It was good to see guys respond. We’ve been trying to take that step of making sure we’re playing for each other and making sure we’re happy for somebody else’s success.
“We did that today and we grew.”
Iowa State focused a lot on team chemistry between the West Virginia and Texas Tech games. Prohm had individual meetings with each of the players, the players had team meetings and Michael Jacobson and Talen Horton-Tucker — two players that were involved in a little pushing match at West Virginia — went to the Friday’s boys’ state basketball championships in Des Moines together.
“They just decided that we have to get back to who we really are,” Prohm said. “We have good kids. Three weeks ago, we were on top of the world. They just recommitted themselves to each other. (Friday’s) practice was terrific, really, really good.
“Sometimes you get tired of hearing the outside noise and you have to change. I thought we were complete today, we just weren’t good enough down the stretch to finish it.”
Iowa State’s chemistry will be put to the test as the Big 12 tournament arrives next week, but right now, Shayok is happy this week is over with. He’ll get three days to heal his toe and the team will be able to move on.
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“It’s been a hell of a week for sure,” Shayok deadpanned. “I’m excited to move forward and get ready for next week in Kansas City.”
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