AMES, Iowa – There was no explanation for the numbers appearing on the paper before DeAndre Kane’s eyes, figures in the box score for a stinging 77-70 loss to Kansas that were immutable and plain. They reflected his Iowa State team’s general malaise offensively, some out-of-tune efforts from normally reliable teammates like Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim, among others. There was no explanation on that black-and-white sheet for what consumed the Cyclones on Monday.
But there was consolation for Kane, the lead guard in it all, in the sense that he’d never seen anything like it before.
“Georges shot 4-of-20 – that’s rare,” Kane said. “Mel shot 5-of-15. That’s rare.”
Rare enough to be dismissed to some degree. But the context of a 17th defeat in 18 games to Kansas – and a second straight loss overall after a school-record 14-0 start – seemed equally muddled as Hilton Coliseum emptied. The Cyclones did not win a game in which they shot poorly, just 31.4 percent overall, and, well, duh. This is a Fred Hoiberg club predicated on scoring and attacking and things are bound to go sour when it can accomplish neither regularly.
But to label Iowa State as one-dimensional, and perhaps therefore forgettable as a legitimate NCAA tournament force, is to ignore the 24 forced turnovers Monday night. This is no lockdown defense, a fact underscored by Kansas’ 49.2 percent shooting. Hoiberg thought the offensive slump affected his team's wherewithal to get stops just enough to allow the Jayhawks room to run to an 11-point second half lead. But the Cyclones also were feisty enough to find a way to threaten an emerging Final Four contender.
“We couldn’t have had much worse of an offensive night and we still had a chance to win the game,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our hands were extremely active. Probably as good as we’ve been all year against Baylor. Took a step backwards against Oklahoma. And against this team, you have to do it. That kept us in the game.”
If there is an endemic issue, it appears somewhat related: Iowa State isn’t very big, and that is showing on the glass. After a plus-60 rebounding margin in non-conference play, the Cyclones are minus-36 through four Big 12 games. Kansas dominated the boards 53-36 on Monday.
Iowa State’s lack of length effectively prohibits it from being a terrific rebounding team. But it must hold its own. First, it must close possessions. Second, a rebound can become the launching pad for a fast break or transition opportunity upon which this club thrives.
“We weren’t able to grab the ball and get up and down and do what we like to do,” Ejim said.
Hence Hoiberg’s point of emphasis during upcoming film work. “This is a couple games in a row now where probably the difference has been on the glass,” the Cyclones coach said. “We’ll get back to doing a lot of technique stuff on that. We were pretty good in the non-conference portion of the schedule. You don’t want this to become a trend moving forward.”
That’s the worry. The offense is not. The Cyclones were shooting 50 percent from the floor overall in conference play, and they assume their effectiveness will return soon. It better, with consecutive road games at Texas and at Baylor up next. “It was one of those nights we couldn’t get anything to fall,” Ejim said. “When you’re a team that relies on shooting the ball and making shots, that’s hard to overcome. You have to sometimes shoot yourself out of it. It’s our mentality to play fast, to play up and down, and we’re not going to change that just because our shots aren’t falling. If you get in those slumps, it’s sometimes hard to get out. But it’s the type of basketball we play, and it’s not going to last forever.”