Young Cyclones square up against old rivals Missouri

Senior Zoran Talley Jr. cheers on his teammates during ISU’s season opening game vs. Alabama State on Nov. 6 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones won 79-53. 

Noah Rohlfing

An old Iowa State enemy comes back to Ames for the first time since the 2011-12 season on Friday night.

The Missouri Tigers will take on the Cyclones at 6 p.m., the second installment of the two teams’ home-and-home series. Last year, the Tigers beat Iowa State 74-59 in Columbia, Missouri, the first of 18 losses for the Cyclones in a disappointing season. 

The Cyclones head into their first test of the year shorthanded due to the suspensions of Cameron Lard and Zoran Talley Jr. until at least the end of November, leaving Michael Jacobson and George Conditt as the only available post options.

Coach Steve Prohm said Lard and Talley Jr. know they need to make better decisions. 

“He’s a fifth-year senior, he’s got to make better decisions,” Prohm said of Talley Jr. 

One of the strategies the Cyclones may have to employ in this game — and beyond — when going small in lineups is positioning senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb at the four or five in defensive situations as an unlikely last-resort option, in case Jacobson and Conditt find themselves in foul trouble. The 6-foot-5 guard is a long and versatile defender, but Weiler-Babb doesn’t see himself as a post mainstay. 

“Defensively, I think it’ll take care of itself,” Weiler-Babb said. “Just have to depend on my help side a little bit, if I gotta guard [Jeremiah] Tilmon.”

The Cyclones’ post weakness is in the Tigers’ area of strength. The Tigers may be without star forward Jontay Porter, who is out for the year with a knee injury, but freshman forward Tilmon and senior Kevin Puryear are the leaders of a young Missouri team. Prohm said the biggest key to the game would be Iowa State’s ability to keep Tilmon and Missouri in check inside.

Both teams in Friday’s game are very different from the 2017 meeting. The Tigers lost four players from last year’s roster, while six Cyclones made their debuts on Tuesday. The familiarity factor just isn’t there right now on either side. 

The Tigers beat Central Arkansas in their season opener, 68-55, and committed 11 turnovers on the night. The Cyclones forced 20 turnovers against Alabama State on Tuesday, scoring 14 points off of those turnovers. With a disadvantage inside and little depth outside the guard positions, the Cyclones’ ability to force Missouri into turnovers will be crucial. 

Freshman guard Tyrese Haliburton said Missouri give the Cyclones a different look from a fast-paced Alabama State. 

“They’re big, they’re physical,” Haliburton said. “It’s about watching a lot of film in practice and just getting ready for them.”

The Tigers struggled from outside of the paint against the Bears, hitting only 8-of-26 3-point attempts and shooting 6-for-13 from the free-throw line. The Cyclones will likely live with the Tigers taking threes and staying outside. 

On offense for the Cyclones, heralded freshman Talen Horton-Tucker had an off night from the floor on Tuesday, and Prohm said the biggest thing Horton-Tucker needs to work on is with his shot selection. 

“He had five threes that I would beg him to take, that he needs to take,” Prohm said. “Sometimes he gets ahead of himself.”

Having a better night offensively from Horton-Tucker will provide the Cyclones with more avenues to attack the Tigers.

An old foe comes back to Hilton tomorrow night, in what is suddenly a big first-week test for a thin Cyclones group.