AMES — A 19- to 23-year-old person shouldn’t have to carry a team of 12-15 players.
But that’s exactly where the Iowa State men’s basketball team finds itself. The Cyclones will only go as far as sophomore Tyrese Haliburton can carry them.
It seems extreme on the surface, but the Cyclones proved it to be true on the court Tuesday when they lost to Florida A&M — a team KenPom.com had ranked in the 300s — with Haliburton out, nursing a sprained wrist.
Iowa State travels to Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday to begin Big 12 Conference play against TCU. Coach Steve Prohm said Haliburton will be back in the lineup.
“We turned the ball over almost 20 times in our last game and we weren’t in our offensive rhythm,” Prohm said. “Decision making and play making were lacking and he’s a guy that’s going to play 39 minutes that can make decisions and is efficient with a high usage rate.”
Before the Florida A&M game, Iowa State was a top-five team in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio — in large part thanks to Haliburton, who’s averaging 7.7 assists and just 2.4 turnovers per game.
He makes everyone around him better with his ability to see the floor and get the ball where it needs to go when it needs to get there.
To go along with his high-level play-making ability, Haliburton is Iowa State’s best scoring option. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field, 42 percent shooting from 3-point range and 73 percent from the free-throw line.
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To make matters more ridiculous for Haliburton, the 6-foot-5, 175-pound point guard is one of, if not the best, rebounders on Iowa State’s team.
He’s averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, second only to Michael Jacobson’s 6.6.
While it’s great for Iowa State that its point guard can rebound extraordinarily well for his position, it also needs a big man who’s willing to fight for the ball.
Against Florida A&M, Jacobson and Solomon Young combined for just four rebounds.
“They have to rebound,” Prohm said. “Collectively they only played 40 minutes on Tuesday, but they can’t have four rebounds. They know that, we know that — you could look at a stat sheet and know that. They have to rebound. We have to rebound better and defend the paint better. We need a double-figure rebound guy. We need a guy who’s in the top of the league in rebounding.
“We have it in blocked shots in George Conditt. Now we need it in rebounding. We have to make people miss and then go get it and get it out of your area and not wait for the ball to fall to you.”
The Cyclones have good and talented players, but they need Haliburton to make it work. They beat the likes of Seton Hall but they’ve also lost to Iowa, Michigan and Oregon State.
“Non conference doesn’t really mean anything when conference play rolls around,” Haliburton said. “We’re trying to zero in right now. It’s about what you do in conference play that can take you somewhere in March. This is when the gauntlet begins.”
And it will be a gauntlet in the Big 12 once again. Kansas, like always, will compete for a conference championship, Baylor appears to be a very good team and Bob Huggins has his West Virginia team back to playing how he wants them to.
“Other teams in our league have had great wins but after those three, you don’t know where the league is going to shake out,” Prohm said. “In this league, as easily as you can lose two in a row, you can win three in a row. You just have to be focused.”
Stay focused and make sure Haliburton stays healthy and in the lineup.
Prohm saw what it looked like with Haliburton out, and it wasn’t pretty.
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“That was a bad moment,” Prohm said. “But you have to handle it and move forward. It’ll always be there but you have to get to work. We have TCU next and in this business things can flip quick.”
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