Men’s hoops set to face No. 9 Missouri


Photo: Rebekka Brown/Iowa State Daily

Forward Royce White dunks two extra points during the ISU-UNI game Wednesday, Nov. 30, at Hilton Coliseum. White put up 15 points during the game, but at the end of the night, the Panthers defeated the Cyclones 69-62.

Jeremiah Davis

Royce White has the ability to create quite a bit of buzz. Now, following a triple-double performance in the Cyclones’ 74-50 win against Texas A&M, he’s drawing comparisons to some one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

In the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference Monday, Missouri coach Frank Haith compared White to former Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson.

“That’s outrageous. Magic was top three greatest players of all time,” White said with a laugh. “I’m honored that [Haith] would say that.”

Coach Fred Hoiberg laughed when the comparison was brought up. The second-year coach said White’s performance wasn’t flashy — but that’s why it was so good.

“[White] played such a simple game,” Hoiberg said. “He didn’t try to overdo it, he wasn’t throwing no-look passes, and you could see that. When he had the ball in the half-court set, he played as simple a game as you could play and made easy passes to our guys who were ready to shoot.”

Now, with Iowa State (12-3, 2-0 Big 12) undefeated in Big 12 play, the Cyclones welcome No. 9 Missouri to Hilton while seemingly playing their best basketball all season.

Defending the home court is something Hoiberg got used to as a player — the height of Hilton Magic under coach Johnny Orr — and hopes to get used to as a coach.

“I’d love to get a little string going [at home],” Hoiberg said. “My junior year, we were 7-0 at home and 1-6 on the road. We expected to win every game at home [back then] and we need to have that mentality [now].”

For the players, winning at home is basically a given. White said winning at home isn’t emphasized any extra because it doesn’t need to be.

“It’s not a big emphasis, we just believe that we should take care of business at home,” White said. “We know that our style of play offensively that we’ll probably shoot well at home most nights, and it’s a defensive and rebounding thing. We’ve got the momentum of the crowd when it comes to defense on our home turf.”

Maybe the best sign Hoiberg and Co. saw in the win against Texas A&M on Saturday was the fact that the Cyclones didn’t let the Aggies back in the game, as they had done in a few games in non-conference play. Keeping the other team down as they built a lead was a goal Hoiberg has been striving for for most of the season, and it’s beginning to come to fruition.

“We got off to a great start and just kept our foot on the gas,” Hoiberg said. “We’re at our best when we’re getting out in transition and running and throwing that ball ahead. We got [the ball] out, we hit perimeter shots. [Missouri] had to go out and help because we were getting out in transition because we were controlling the boards.

“If we control the boards, we’re going to be a pretty tough team to beat most nights.”

At No. 9 in the country, Iowa State wouldn’t have had an easy test in Missouri (14-1, 1-1) anyway. But with the Tigers coming off a 75-59 loss on the road to No. 22 Kansas State, Hoiberg said Missouri will be eager to right the ship and get back on track for a Big 12 championship.

“Kansas State played [Missouri] very physical,” Hoiberg said. “I think Missouri comes in here with confidence, probably a chip on their shoulder after losing a game, and we’re going to have to be ready to go.”

Against the Tigers, the Cyclones know they’ll have to continue to do what they did in their first two conference games on the defensive end. A key defensive player for Iowa State in those games — and throughout the non-conference season as well — has been Chris Babb.

Hoiberg said Babb has been solid defensively, even through his poor shooting streak prior to Big 12 play.

Led by Babb, the team has had strong defensive efforts it its two Big 12 games. With Missouri on Wednesday night and a road game in Allen Fieldhouse against Kansas on Saturday, the Cyclones will have ample chances to prove that the fast start in conference is legit.

“I think this is a great opportunity for us to prove ourselves,” Babb said. “I think it’ll be a good test for us. I think we’re going to have a good home [game] — there’s going to be a lot of people come out and support us — and then have a quick turnaround to get ready to play on the road at one of the toughest places to play nationally.”

More than just validating their record, the players know that they’ll have a chance to learn about themselves as well in facing two of the best teams not only in the conference, but in the nation as well.

“We’re going to run into adversity with [Missouri and Kansas], that’s for sure,” White said. “We can count on them making some runs. We can count on having to fight back into a game at some point. We’ll see how we deal with that. If we come out in a good way, then I think we’re in really good shape going forward into the next weeks to come.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum.