KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker had one of the better games of his young career Thursday.
He scored 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field and 5-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. He also had four rebounds, three blocks and two assists in Iowa State’s 83-66 win over Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament at Sprint Center.
But maybe the biggest thing he did was match the toughness of Baylor’s Mark Vital. Horton-Tucker put a body on Vital every time a shot went up to help make sure he stayed off the offensive glass.
“I felt like I did pretty good today,” Horton-Tucker said. “The last two times, he was a lot more physical than me. That’s another thing, with me being a freshman — I’m not making any excuses — but these guys know what’s going on, I didn’t know what was going on, so matching his intensity this game was progress and really good. I’m really happy I was able to do that.”
He credits his toughness to his upbringing, and he wanted to prove it Thursday.
“I’m from Chicago,” Horton-Tucker said. “We’re tough.”
His contributions didn’t go unnoticed from his teammates.
“He played great,” senior Nick Weiler-Babb said. “He was one of our X-factors today, no question. He scored the ball, but on the defensive end he was grabbing rebounds, playing tough and getting stops for us.”
Horton-Tucker has been good all season. He was named to the Big 12 all-freshman team after averaging 12.2 points per game. But he can get himself in trouble sometimes when he dribbles too much. Horton-Tucker tends to end possessions on a low-percentage shot after dribbling around.
Thursday, he stayed away from difficult step-back shots.
“He’s really good,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “When the floor is spread, he’s tough to handle off the dribble and when he’s being more direct from A to B instead of A, B, C, D, E to get to F. When he goes in a direct line, he’s tough. When he’s making shots, it adds another element to his game.”
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Wednesday, Horton-Tucker said he lived for big stages and Thursday he proved it, in part thanks to his decisiveness on offense.
“I feel like I was born for big stages,” Horton-Tucker said. “That’s why I got into basketball.”
Horton-Tucker has a chance to prove it over the next couple of days and weeks in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
The No. 5-seeded Cyclones play either No. 1-seed Kansas State or No. 8-seed TCU in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday. Iowa State split with Kansas State during the regular season, each team winning on the other’s home court. Iowa State was swept by TCU.
“He’s a big-time player,” fellow freshman Tyrese Haliburton said. “And big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. That’s just what he does.”
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