MEN’S BASKETBALL: Cyclones stave off early pressure to overcome Bengals

Chris Cuellar

Overcoming struggles at the start, the ISU men’s basketball team used balanced scoring and created energy within Hilton Coliseum to win Friday’s season opener 88-68 against the Idaho State Bengals.

The Cyclones combated eight first-half turnovers with 12 assists during that span, and, eventually, the ISU defensive pressure and depth overpowered the Bengals — something coach Greg McDermott wants to see all season.

“I think we were just a little jittery, trying to do everything too much,” returning forward Craig Brackins said. “It was the first time we have seen a zone, so we were working on some stuff. We got it going — talking about how we could pick it up — and everybody got on the same page on how to fix it and turn it around.”

Experience and scoring from the returning players blended with the athletic skills of the Cyclones’ fresh faces, giving the 13,727 in attendance at Hilton Coliseum a lot to cheer about once the scoring barrage opened up for Iowa State 15 minutes into the contest.

Brackins added 17 points, but things weren’t all about the highly touted Cyclone in the paint, as his typical highlight footage was shared with teammates.

Iowa State newcomers LaRon Dendy and Marquis Gilstrap fit right into the mold in their first regular season outing, wearing the Cyclones’ white home uniforms, scoring 16 and 13 points a piece, including dunks and hustle plays that got the Hilton crowd to its feet. Freshman point guard Chris Colvin saw plenty of action in his collegiate debut, hitting the floor for 17 minutes and finishing with a productive five points and four assists.

“The new guys came in — you wouldn’t even think they were new,” Brackins said. “They came in with a lot of energy, they played hard, they rebounded and they came in with enthusiasm that helped us out the whole game.”

The Bengals gave the Cyclones fits early on, with different zone defense looks and speed the home team hadn’t seen in two exhibition games. Last year’s 3-point shooting leader and junior guard Lucca Staiger eventually found his stroke, knocking down three first-half three-pointers while the Cyclones were struggling to add baskets. The team shot 7-for-15 overall from 3-point range, including an impressive 55-percent from the field in its first action that goes down in the record books.

Ten different Cyclones added baskets, and the added depth to the lineup shined, scoring 40 points off the bench and out-rebounding the Bengals 44 to 31. The balanced attack included four ISU players scoring in double digits, adding to a lead that ballooned to 27 at a point in the second half.

“I liked our balance: We spread our shots around, our guys were really unselfish and always willing to make that extra pass,” McDermott said.

McDermott also praised guard Diante Garrett, a returning starter who didn’t score in 20 minutes of action but added seven assists, one block and a steal. Garrett’s improvement in leading the team was what McDermott found most impressive during the contest.

Idaho State’s six-foot guard Broderick Gilchrest had been a concern for the ISU defense coming into the match-up, averaging 23.5 points per exhibition game for the Bengals, but was held to four first-half points against tenacious pressure from Iowa State’s guards.

Iowa State’s battle didn’t feature the team’s starters for much of the second half, and Brackins only logged 10 minutes in the later period.

Fast break points were a key for the Cyclones, a much different style than McDermott’s teams have played with in the past, but a philosophy the team will hold as long as the athletes can run the floor against the competition.

“Every time I went to dunk, I thought about the crowd, and I thought, ‘I’m about to feel the magic,’” Dendy said.

Announced after the game, guards Bubu Palo and Antwan Oliver donned their red shirts, but true freshman forward Alex Dorr, from Norwalk, will see action for the Cyclones this season.