Belinson: Iowa State can’t shy away from its winning formula

Tyrese Haliburton looks to drive past an Oklahoma defender on Jan. 11, 2020 

Matt Belinson

It took six conference games to get there, but it seems Iowa State has finally figured out its winning formula.

Now, I know one game is a pretty small sample size to take any real stock in, but if you watched Tuesday’s 89-82 Iowa State win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys, it seems as though Iowa State has solved its glaring issue on offense.

Time and time again, opponents began to realize that if you take Tyrese Haliburton out of the equation in his scoring and passing ability, who else on the Cyclones would they have to really fear?

The Cyclone playmaker was shut down for the Texas Tech matchup last Saturday, with the Red Raiders taking away the pick and roll and forcing Haliburton to give up his shot to someone else. With little to no post presence that scared the Red Raiders, why wouldn’t you continue to lock in on Haliburton?

But after Tuesday night’s win over the Cowboys, opponents might have to be on the lookout for not just Haliburton but a real threat down-low. 

After what seemed like an eternity of struggles from three point range, the Cyclones were finally able to put together one of the best shooting performances of the season at a time when the team was in desperate need of a fix for an offense that had put up 55 and 52 points in its previous two games.

But the key wasn’t just how effective Iowa State was from three-point range, it was the added factor of having a physical presence in the post that finally allowed Iowa State to show just how dynamic this offense can be.

Obviously, if you watched Iowa State basketball this year, consistency has been removed from the entirety of its season — which is why the Cyclones must not shy away from what clearly worked against the Cowboys.

Solomon Young had the best game of his career as a Cyclone with career-highs of 27 points, 13 free throws and 15 free throw attempts on Tuesday.

The redshirt-junior’s breakout game was not only a huge boost for himself after being benched just conference games ago, but it also shows a boost of what Iowa State needs to continue.

Don’t just take my word for it: Young’s teammates knew what having a presence down-low would mean for the Cyclone offense.

Over and over, Haliburton or Rasir Bolton, who are both not afraid of finding their own shot, made it a point of emphasis to continue feeding the big-men. Head Coach Steve Prohm made note that all throughout Tuesday’s game, Haliburton repeatedly yelled to his fellow teammates to “throw it in” to Young, who would usually end up being fouled on his way up for an easy layup.

If the Cyclones continue to value having a big presence in the paint and throwing the ball inside to establish a legitimate post threat, all while getting the ball to their best scoring threats without the defense loading up in their face, that can only make life easier for the rest of the team.

Prohm said that he wanted to establish a post presence against the Cowboys, and it worked to a tee, making it even more important to continue that game plan against Iowa State’s upcoming schedule of highly ranked opponents. The Cyclones have been forced to play in front of the big lineups that teams like Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas have thrown at them, making it all the more important to be committed to generating a productive post-game.

The game-plan of getting the ball down low certainly helped Iowa State’s top two scorers.

Bolton and Haliburton were not nearly defended at the level they were against Texas Tech and Baylor, thanks to the defense having to respect the threat of Young inside. Bolton and Haliburton took advantage of the defense having to focus on Young more and more, with the sophomore guards combining for 41 points, including 10-15 from three.

Although Iowa State is still on the outside looking in at the top teams in the conference sitting 2-4 in Big 12 play, Tuesday’s combination of a legitimate threat inside that also allows for easier looks for Iowa State’s top perimeter scorers leaves the Cyclones better off than what they were just a week ago.

This successful type of outing must continue for Iowa State for the rest of the season if they want even a thought of making the NCAA Tournament.

Mike Boynton, head coach of the Cowboys, said it himself, if Iowa State plays like they did on Tuesday night with a dominant post presence and perimeter shooting left open more than in previous games, the Cyclones will become a tough out from here on.

“If the combination is that good, then you got real issues,” Boynton said.