Takeaways: Cyclones get better production but without a better result

Solomon Young shoots a layup against No. 17 West Virginia on Feb. 2 in Hilton Coliseum.

Matt Belinson

It was a step in the right direction for Iowa State men’s basketball Tuesday against West Virginia.

Yes, the Cyclones did lose once again, this time falling to the Mountaineers 76-72, but in context of their three previous games being decided by 28, 21 and 39 points, signs of progress showed up in the 4-point loss.

How did Iowa State take some of those steps and what cost itself a chance to win Tuesday? Let’s begin in the post.

Post presence returns

And more specifically, Solomon Young returned for Iowa State.

Young scored 15 points in his 29 minutes of action, shooting 5-10 from the floor with five rebounds. In the 10 games he’s played this season, Young has had five games with at least 15 points.

The redshirt senior had missed Iowa State’s last two games after being placed into health and safety protocols, and Iowa State’s post play took a step back in his absence.

During Young’s time away from the team, Iowa State’s remaining forward George Conditt IV had to step up for Young down low.

Conditt managed to go 3-7 from the field with 7 points and 13 total rebounds in the two games combined in the post for Iowa State.

In the two games without Young, the Cyclones were outscored in points in the paint 58-22 by Oklahoma State and 48-14 by Mississippi State. The big-man’s return Tuesday helped Iowa State beat the Mountaineers 28-24 points in the paint.

Outside of scoring, Iowa State was outrebounded 49-19 by the Cowboys on Jan. 25, but with Young’s return Tuesday, Iowa State was outrebounded by seven.

Young’s teammate Tyler Harris admitted the return of Young brought some confidence back to the team going into Tuesday’s game.

“We felt good to have a couple guys back. You know, we had big-Solomon back and we played kind of bad last game, and we had to come pick it up in this one,” Harris said.

“He brought experience,” Harris said. “He gave us a post presence, and you know he’s a defensive anchor.”

Young felt a little winded in the first half and said he tried to let the game come to him and not force the issue. But Young and other Cyclones got used to long breaks without basketball during the arrival of COVID-19.

Young said his summer training and his muscle memory made the transition back from two weeks off from play easier than others would think.

“I tried to take my time down there, let it come to me,” Young said.

A killer run

It’s the life of college basketball, but Iowa State found itself on the good and bad side of big runs during its loss to West Virginia.

After West Virginia opened with a 8-2 lead, Iowa State responded with a 10-2 run of its own, leading to a media timeout.

Iowa State continued to climb and it even held a 24-17 lead at the 11:15 mark of the first half, shooting 8-14 from the field.

And then West Virginia took control.

Iowa State shot 3-16 from the 11:15 mark in the first half, allowing the Mountaineers to put up a 19-2 run lasting over eight minutes.

“A little eight-minute stretch, the last eight minutes of the first half was tough for us and really flipped the game,” Iowa State Head Coach Steve Prohm said.

With Rasir Bolton in foul trouble late in the half, Iowa State lost its leading playmaker and scorer. Prohm saw the No. 2 guard position struggle during the run to take good shots, leading to poor decisions and bad defense.

“We lost eight points in that stretch and that was big, that was big,” Prohm said.

Guard spot gets a boost

For longer stretches than Iowa State would have liked, its top guard Bolton was sitting on the bench due to foul trouble.

The circumstances weren’t ideal for the Cyclones, but in Bolton’s extended time on the bench, Iowa State found increased production from its other main guards.

Bolton and Harris both scored 15 points, and Jalen Coleman-Lands finished with 11 of his own. It was the first time since the season opener Nov. 29 that Iowa State had at least 10 points from three of its guards in the same game.

Freshman guard Jaden Walker played his most minutes yet at point guard Tuesday, an area where Walker knew Prohm and the coaching staff have been looking for other options behind Bolton.

“He’s been trying to figure out who can run the one behind [Rasir], and [Rasir] be playing a lot of minutes, so I was able to step up to the challenge and help produce for the team,” Walker said.

Walker’s stat line was a good example of what the Cyclones showed Tuesday: up and down.

Walker made the starting lineup again and played 38 minutes with 6 points, six rebounds and six assists but with six turnovers.

Prohm said Walker still plays like a freshman, and if he can work on cleaning up details, including his handling of the ball going downhill, Walker can take the next step for the Cyclones.

“I thought [Jaden] had great activity,” Prohm said. “… Now we gotta take the next step. Keep the rebounds, keep the assists and talk to him and show him tape about getting those turnovers down.”