Takeaways: Second-half defense, Bolton’s efficiency and lack of bench scoring

Rasir Bolton helps Prentiss Nixon up on March 3 against West Virginia in Iowa State’s final home game of the season at Hilton Coliseum.

Matt Belinson

While it appears as another loss in the record book, Iowa State made the 77-71 loss to West Virginia on Tuesday night a much more competitive fight compared to its previous three losses — three losses that had an average margin of defeat of 20.6 points. 

The driving force behind the comeback effort was the backdrop of Senior Night for Michael Jacobson and Prentiss Nixon, who combined to score 28 points in their final home game as Cyclones.

Second-half competitiveness

Head Coach Steve Prohm issued a challenge to his team after losing to Texas Tech by 30 points at home Feb. 22.

“Our competitive spirit on defense was the difference in the game,” Prohm said. “That’s gotta change, and it hasn’t, so we gotta continue to address in ways that we can right now.” 

Since the 30-point loss to Texas Tech, Iowa State saw another double-digit loss go through their hands at Oklahoma State, leaving players and coaches continually frustrated about the lack of toughness and competitiveness on the defensive end. 

Iowa State answered the call Tuesday night.

West Virginia walked into the locker room with a 44-31 lead but would soon find itself losing its comfortable cushion in the opening minutes of the second half.

Iowa State held West Virginia scoreless in the first 5:38 of the second half, forcing West Virginia to miss its first five shots from the floor with three turnovers.

The Cyclones found a groove off its stingy defense, opening the second half on an 11-0 run that saw 3-point shots and 3-point plays being made all across the board.

Prohm said the Cyclones started to defend passing lanes and rebound with assertiveness around the basket in the second half. Playing with a competitive edge on defense was something Prohm wanted to have for Tuesday’s game, especially with it being the final send-off to the senior class.

“I can sleep better tonight just knowing the way we competed; we just weren’t able to get over the hump,” Prohm said.

Tyrese Haliburton may not have played Tuesday night but said that his message at halftime to his teammates was just as clear as if he was still on the floor.

Haliburton said that coming out with an increased toughness and fight on the defensive end in the second half had to be top priority. Despite it being in a losing effort, Haliburton said he saw his teammates give it their all on the floor and compete as hard as they have all season.

“At halftime, whatever your feelings or attitude is, it’s gotta go out the window, ’cause at the end of the day, it’s about [Jacobson and Nixon] tonight,” Haliburton said. 

Where’s the bench?

The headlines of the night may have been given to Iowa State’s two seniors or sophomore Rasir Bolton, but there was a large disparity between the two teams in the 77-71 loss that could have easily made the headlines as well.

And for all the wrong reasons.

Iowa State’s bench was outscored 35-2 by the Mountaineers, the lowest scoring output Iowa State’s bench has had all season. The 33-point margin is the biggest Iowa State discrepancy of the year, with the previous season-high being Michigan’s 31-7 bench point edge Nov. 27 in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Cyclones’ bench shot 1-6 with three turnovers and seven personal fouls in the loss. Terrence Lewis was the only Cyclone off the bench to add any offense with his 2 points on a baseline drive that would end in a layup.

This is the 11th time Iowa State’s bench has been outscored this season and the sixth time in Big 12 play.

The Cyclones are 3-8 in games where their bench has been outscored, including 0-6 in conference play.

Bolton shows out

It was Senior Night Tuesday, but a sophomore would provide the biggest scoring boost of any player on the Cyclones and of anyone in the game.

Bolton ended his night with a team-leading 21 points on 5-11 shooting, 1-3 from beyond the arc and went 10-11 at the free-throw line in just 26 minutes of action. Bolton’s 10-made free throws and 11 attempts were both season-highs for the sophomore, whose driving ability has been noted by Prohm as being the best on the team. 

Bolton crashed toward the basket often throughout the night, drawing hard contact in hopes of getting fouls called. His physical attacks toward the basket resulted in Bolton hitting the deck hard with just over six minutes left in the game, hitting the back of his head on the floor on a contested layup. Bolton would come out of the game for just over a minute before returning to the floor.

“Rasir probably came off 40 ball screens; he kept attacking,” Prohm said. 

His 21 points is now the 12th time in his last 13 games in double figures.