Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones tested by Southern’s pressure


Daniel Jacobi II

Junior Lexi Donarski goes for a layup against Southern Nov. 10.

After a contentious first half, No. 8 Iowa State re-discovered its rhythm en route to a win over Southern Thursday night. A standout performance from junior Lexi Donarski helped the Cyclones during their shooting slump.

Unlike its matchup against Cleveland State, Iowa State was forced to work around tight, on-ball defense. Southern’s constant pressure combined with a pair of hot shooters caused problems for Iowa State in the first half.

But the Cyclones were able to pull away in the final two quarters, topping the Jaguars 79-55.

Despite the shooting performance, Iowa State was able to come away with a win over a challenging early-season opponent.

Tough shooting night

The Cyclones struggled to find success shooting in the first two quarters. While Southern’s defense limited clean looks, Iowa State found trouble hitting wide-open shots.

The team shot 39.7% from the field and 8-33 behind the three-point line. Senior Ashley Joens was shut down in the first half, eventually breaking away to reach 15 points off 17 shot attempts.

“It took us a little bit to kind of get going, knock down some shots,” Joens said.

By the end of the first quarter, Southern was within six points of the Cyclones. Four makes behind the arc in the first half prevented Iowa State from breaking away.

But as the Cyclones settled into a rhythm, they were able to separate themselves. A scoring streak late in the second quarter, capped off by a corner three from Donarski with time running out, generated momentum for the second half.

“I thought we played really hard, but unfortunately, it was a game where our inability to make a shot impacted some of the other things we did,” head coach Bill Fennelly said.

Donarski steps up

While Iowa State struggled to capitalize on scoring opportunities, Donarski was a key factor in keeping a prodding Southern team at bay. She found success at both ends of the floor, leading the Cyclones with 22 points and helping to hold the Jaguars to 55 points.

“The defensive energy that she brings every night translated to her offense,” Fennelly said.

Like the rest of the team, Donarski got off to a slow start but quickly shook off a set of missed shots. Despite one make in the first quarter, Donarski rallied to score nine points in the second.

She matched her first-half efficiency, earning 11 points in the final two quarters. While the rest of her team fell into a slump after a few missed shots, Donarski responded with consistent makes.

“The first three she took were wild and she missed them all,” Fennelly said. “But after that, she didn’t panic, didn’t pout. (She) kept playing, got her the ball and she made some shots.”

Early season test

Southern’s pressure-tested Iowa State in the early season matchup. Its tight man coverage provided a look the Cyclones have not seen yet this season, but the team was able to come away with a win.

“At the end of the year, there’s not gonna be an asterisk about how well you play or didn’t play,” Fennelly said.

While Iowa State was able to pull away in the end, the win did not come without adjustments on both ends of the floor. Iowa State worked to attack the lane more consistently and applied tighter defensive pressure as the game progressed.

The game was scrappy, and Iowa State had to earn stops when it was not able to score. Southern was playing intensely, jumping on loose balls and forcing turnovers.

When Iowa State was forced to fight for each score and possession, the Cyclones responded. High-intensity battles are a constant in the Big 12, and getting early opportunities to face aggressive opponents can help Iowa State prepare for a rigorous conference slate.

“They play really hard and we know that, and so it was a good team to have early on our schedule,” Donarski said.