MEN’S BASKETBALL: Cyclones lose close one to Texas A&M

Nate Sandell —

The storyline Saturday was one the Cyclones have become familiar with.

As has been the case all season, Iowa State hung with No. 24 Texas A&M for most of the game, but ultimately could not overcome the Aggies, losing 60–56.

The close loss, which was the Cyclones sixth in a row and another addition to Iowa State’s long list of close losses this season, left a bitter sting.

“We’re all a little heartbroken. It’s right there and we all know we need to make that one extra play to win,” said center Justin Hamilton. “It was a tough one. It was really emotional on a lot of our players. We were right there, but couldn’t cut through.”

The Cyclones trailed by 10 points at one point in the second half, but fought back to within one by the two-minute mark. However, a missed opportunity with less than a minute left, on a possession Iowa State could have tied the game, was enough to allow the Aggies to hold on to the victory.

After a dismal start to Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma State put the Cyclones in a deep hole early, Iowa State came into Saturday’s game with an energy that was not present a few days earlier. Iowa State started strong and immediately kept pace with the Aggies, trailing by only three at halftime.

“I’m not going to fault their effort. I thought their effort from the opening tip was where it needed to be,” said coach Greg McDermott. “We had some execution breakdowns at times and we had times when we flat out missed shots.”

Iowa State shot 40 percent in the first half, but the shooting percentage dropped in the second half to 33 on 19-of-59 shooting.

Much of those shooting struggles came from Iowa State’s leading scorers Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap, who both struggled early. Gilstrap went 1-of-7 from the field, before a trio of 3-pointers in the second half helped him end with 15 points (5-of-14). Brackins finished the game with 10 points off 4-of-16 shooting.

The duo has shot a combined 29 percent over the last four games, with Brackins going 18-of-68 and Gilstrap 17-of-51.

Gilstrap’s and Brackins’ struggles forced the Cyclones to find points from another source. Guard Diante Garrett took the lead and by halftime led the team with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Garrett went on to finish with a game-high 15 points, tying Gilstrap.

“I try to be the leader. Get [Brackins and Gilstrap] the best shots they could get, but if they’re not falling for them, then I try to pick it up for them,” Garrett said.

Iowa State’s starting lineup shouldered much of the load as the Cyclones received zero points from their bench.

“We went with the starters a lot this afternoon, and that was not anything that was pre-determined on my part,” McDermott said. “I just felt this afternoon that group was playing the best together.”

But despite the efforts of the starting five, it was not enough to prevent Saturday’s game from being added to Iowa State’s long list of close losses this season.

“There is no one in the world more upset than they are right now,” McDermott said about his team. “I just left Craig Brackins in the locker room and he is very distraught because he’s invested a lot and when you invest a lot you expect results.”

The Cyclones have lost eight of their last nine games and are now under .500, with only four games remaining.

Although Saturday’s loss seemed to have been one of most emotionally draining games of the season for the Cyclones, McDermott said it is important the team continue to pick itself up and move on.

“This team has really stuck together,” McDermott said. “But you need the bounce of the ball once in a while and you need lady luck to shine on you. And you just need to keep working hard in hopes and know that sooner or later your hard work will pay off.

“It’s my job and our job as a coaching staff to keep them believing in themselves. It’s hard for me and I’m 45. They’re 18, 19, and 20 so it is a little harder for them.”