Iowa St.-Illinois Preview - Sports Illustrated

Iowa St.-Illinois Preview

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Ten 3-pointers through the first two games wasn't exactly what Iowa State envisioned for an offense expected to be one of the best in the country from deep.

Twenty seven in the last two is more like it.

The fourth-ranked Cyclones have found their range at the Emerald Coast Classic and will look to finish off a championship run Saturday night when they meet Illinois in Niceville, Florida.

Iowa State (4-0) will try to win its opening five games for the fourth time in seven seasons, this time under first-year coach Steve Prohm. The Cyclones' sharp shooting displayed in the last two victories would help.

They made 27 of 50 3-pointers in consecutive wins of 83-63 in a non-bracket game over Chattanooga and 99-77 over Virginia Tech. They made 13 of 21 from long range in Friday's semifinal win over the Hokies, while all seven players that attempted a 3 made at least one.

Iowa State raised its 3-point percentage in the last two games to 54.0, just above its overall mark of 53.8. All five starters scored in double figures Friday.

''They were really locked in and flying around," Prohm said. "These guys have been real good."

Opponents have made 11 or more 3-pointers against Illinois (3-3) four times. The Illini surrendered 41.3-percent shooting from deep entering Friday's other semifinal, but they held UAB to 5 for 23 during a 72-58 win.

While long-range shooting is a big part of Iowa State's offense, senior forward Jameel McKay has been a force closer to the basket. McKay converted on 10 of 16 shots for a game-high 23 points against Virginia Tech while grabbing eight rebounds. He averages 16.0 points and 11.5 rebounds and has made 63.8 percent of his shots.

McKay - who poured in a career-high 25 points in last week's 106-64 win over Chicago State, which Illinois needed a buzzer beater to escape - scored 15 in the first half against Virginia Tech with seven coming during a 22-4 run.

''It all started with Jameel," said Georges Niang, who had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists. "He was making tough plays at the rim which lead to kick outs and 3s. Once we got our transition going there was really no stopping us from there.''

Abdel Nader added 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Monte Morris had 14 points and seven assists.

Iowa State missed out on a rematch with the team that knocked it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament when Illinois cruised past the Blazers on the other side of the bracket.

Kendrick Nunn missed Illinois' first five games after undergoing thumb surgery in October, but he returned in a big way with 18 points off the bench in 31 minutes. Nunn made 3 of 5 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds.

Malcolm Hill scored six of his 12 points during a decisive 14-3 run to start the second half.

Illinois also returned Loren Black and Jaylon Tate to the floor. Black, who scored 12 points, had played limited minutes in four of the first five games while dealing with knee soreness after surgery last month to repair a torn meniscus. Tate missed the previous four games with an open dislocation on his pinkie finger.

''In most cases our guys have been able to come back earlier than what has predicted,'' coach John Groce said. ''We really had a lot of depth tonight and everyone was able to make a contribution.''

Illinois has lost five straight to top-5 teams after beating No. 1 Indiana in February 2013.

''Any time you play a ranked team, the rankings mean so much. It's going to be really exciting to play a team like that," junior center Maverick Morgan said. "We're going to come in and try to do the same thing we always do.''