MEN’S BASKETBALL: McDermott mired in streaks

Chris Cuellar —

Five-game losing streaks don’t end themselves.

No. 24 Texas A&M (18-7, 7-4) is the next opponent for coach Greg McDermott’s Cyclones (13-13, 2-9), and the Aggies are surging while Iowa State is attempting to capitalize on any progress with just five games left in the regular season.

Ranked teams continue to be the visitors at Hilton Coliseum, and Iowa State is 0-19 under McDermott against ranked teams since arriving in Ames.

The problem in recent efforts has been a lack of scoring punch, and against Oklahoma State top scorers Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap were a combined 5-for-27 from the field.

“We haven’t gotten a lot of breaks, but sometimes you’ve got to make your own, too. There’s a reason it hasn’t happened for us,” McDermott said.

The Aggies are the winners of four of their last five, with the lone loss coming in a nationally televised contest versus No. 1 Kansas, a game that A&M lost by five. That game was Monday night, so the Aggies will be on four days’ rest before arriving in Ames to solidify their place among the NCAA tournament field.

Coach Mark Turgeon’s club doesn’t lead the Big 12 in any major statistical category, but has found a way to win with the 18.2 points per game they get from guard Donald Sloan, and have been led in scoring by five different players since the start of Big 12 play.

The Cyclones are struggling against scoring depth, as the bench seems to stay thin no matter which players are out. Iowa State has allowed 14 scorers to hit double digits in its last four games.

“You find out where you’re at, you certainly find out where your weakness is,” McDermott said. “Obviously, the fact that we don’t have a lot of depth is the factor with us, particularly the minutes Craig [Brackins] and [Justin Hamilton] have had to play.”

Brackins has logged at least 35 minutes in six straight games.

At 2-9 in conference, hopes for postseason play have faded for the Cyclones, and a stunning run in the Big 12 tournament would be necessary for games to extend past the second week of March. Iowa State’s center Justin Hamilton still isn’t ready to tear up his time card.

“We still have a lot to play for our fans, just give them what they paid for and give it our all,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton has been the benchmark of consistency lately, using his length and hustle in the post to the tune of 10 points and 10 rebounds per game in his last three games.

“There’s so much that he’s doing that isn’t showing up on the stat sheet, that when we watch and grade the tape, he’s bailing out his teammates a lot,” McDermott said of the sophomore.

His growth from the 4.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in his freshman season to the double-double numbers he’s approaching nightly has been a high point in a struggling conference schedule for the Cyclones.

“That’s how he’s been practicing the last three weeks. He’s been asking questions. He’s like a sponge, just trying to learn,” Brackins said. “He’s improved so much. He’s just been working — he works unbelievably hard.”

The Cyclones have lost six in a row to Texas A&M, but McDermott is 7-7 against Turgeon head to head.