MBB: Sophomore point guard Garrett off to a fast start

Diante Garrett hit the game-winning shot in Friday nights game and dished out 11 assists in Saturdays game, the most since Curtis Stinson in 2006. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Shing Kai Chan

Diante Garrett hit the game-winning shot in Friday night’s game and dished out 11 assists in Saturday’s game, the most since Curtis Stinson in 2006. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Chris Conetzkey —

For 39 minutes and 49 seconds last Friday, Diante Garrett had made just one shot.

With the Cyclones trailing by one, things looked grim for a team without a game-winning shot in the final minute of any game during the 2007-2008 season. And if practice was supposed to provide any positive memories, think again.

“We’ve gone over [game-winning situations] a lot,” said coach Greg McDermott. “And we’ve usually lost.”

Then Garrett hit a fadeaway with 11 seconds remaining, and the Cyclones didn’t lose.

“For a guy to only make one basket the whole game, then come up with that shot, speaks volumes of Diante’s progress,” McDermott said after the game. “He is really growing as a point guard and he is a work in progress, like the rest of our team. It’s just going to take some time, and an experience like this is really good for him.”

As were the immediate benefits for the Cyclones in their next two games.

Since his shot sent the Cyclones to a 1-0 start, Garrett did just about everything he could to show everyone the first 39 minutes of his season won’t be representative of the 2008-2009 Garrett.

In Saturday’s win, all the Cyclones’ point guard did was dish out 11 assists — the first time a Cyclone had 10 or more assists since Curtis Stinson in February 2006. Still, his two points on 1-8 shooting left something to be desired.

But Garrett quieted that with a three to open Sunday’s game. Then another, and another, en route to scoring 11 of the Cyclones’ first 12 points, finishing the game with 17. Tack on four more assists, and a team-high nine rebounds, and you have Garrett’s most impressive performance of the season.

The difference from last season: “Being a leader,” Garrett said. “Last year I was learning a lot of new things and a lot of things were running through my head.”

And lead he has. Garrett’s per-game averages for points, assists and rebounds are up.

But his most important stat is down — turnovers, which Garrett led the team in last season.

In three games, Garrett turned the ball over just six times, and last season’s 1.2 assists per turnover ratio has blossomed to 3.3.

“He was driving into a lot of traffic with nowhere to throw it last year,” McDermott said. “And now he has some shooters on the floor that maybe he didn’t have last year. He might have been a better player last year had we been a little bit better 3-point shooting team.”

The Cyclones are shooting .467 from the field and .425 from the arc — a marked improvement over last season, when the team shot .416 from the field, and .313 from the arc.

But Iowa State hasn’t come near playing Big 12-level competition, and as a sophomore, running the team and becoming a leader won’t happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean his coach doesn’t expect perfection from his point guard.

“Diante’s just got to knock down some of those mid-range shots. I was really hard on him at halftime. Then I look at the stat sheet, and he has eight assists and no turnovers,” McDermott said of Garrett’s Friday’s performance. “But I want him to make the right decision every time. That’s what he expects of himself and he’s going to be one of the guys that is going to lead this team and I just feel like, at this point in his career, I’ve got to stay critical and help him continue to improve.”

The Cyclones’ only semblance of a game-winning shot last year was a game-tying shot Garrett hit on the road against Missouri in overtime, a game they eventually lost in double overtime. Having a leader the Cyclones can trust with the ball in the final seconds would be something the Cyclones haven’t had.

The final play of Friday’s game was drawn to put the ball in Garrett’s hand.

“First Missouri, now this one,” said sophomore Craig Brackins. “I asked him in the locker room, ‘How many more you going to get under your belt?’”