Cyclones focusing on defense ahead of season finale

Head coach Steve Prohm yells at his team during the fourth quarter of Iowa State’s senior night game against Oklahoma State on Feb. 27 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cowboys defeated the Cyclones 80-71.

Aaron Marner

It’s been a while since Iowa State last won a men’s basketball game.

Five games have come and gone without coach Steve Prohm’s squad coming out with a win, but there is good news for the Cyclones; the last time they won, it was an 88-80 win over Oklahoma.

Friday’s opponent for the regular season finale? You guessed it — Oklahoma.

Things have gone downhill since then for the Cyclones (13-16, 4-13 Big 12), who have allowed 415 points (83 per game) over their last five games.

“What it’s gonna take is just a lot of hard work, a lot of focus, a lot of effort, a lot of humility,” Prohm said. “That’s what it’s about at the end of the day.”

Three of Iowa State’s last five opponents have finished with at least 1.22 points per possession. That level of consistently poor defense makes it tough to win games in the Big 12, which features eight teams that are likely to make it into the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Oklahoma (17-12, 7-10 Big 12) is one of those top eight teams. Led by freshman Trae Young, the Sooners rank fourth in the nation at 86.2 points per game.

That means a tough test in the final game of the regular season for a team that’s already short-handed.

“I think just a lack of communication and pride,” said senior Donovan Jackson about the defensive struggles. “Defense comes with pride, we’re not doing a good job with that. It’s a self-check that needs to happen.”

In the first game between Iowa State and Oklahoma, Young was held to 22 points, six below his season average. The Sooners were held to a reasonable 1.05 points per possession, thanks in large part to 17 turnovers.

Keeping Young in check has become a more manageable task as of late. Young put up 303 points in Oklahoma’s first nine conference games (33.7 per game) but he’s down to 24.3 per game in the nine games since.

“Our transition defense, our communication out there, it’s just poor,” Prohm said. “We’ve gotta figure out a way to get these guys talking and stop giving up easy baskets, because it just snowballs so fast on us and it affects our pace of play on offense.”

The Sooners rank fourth in KenPom’s adjusted tempo, and they’re second nationally in average possession length at just 14 seconds per possession. The next-fastest team in the Big 12 is Kansas at No. 69 in the nation (16.4 seconds per offensive possession).

Getting up and down the floor isn’t necessarily something the Cyclones are afraid of — Prohm and others have talked about wanting to increase the pace, which would benefit Iowa State’s athletic guards and Cameron Lard’s ability to run the rim as a forward.

Against Oklahoma, the Cyclones may be better suited slowing down. Iowa State will only have eight players healthy, and getting into a track race with the fourth highest-scoring offense in the nation may not be the best idea for a short-handed team.

“It’s a simple game,” Prohm said. “Everybody tries to make it too complicated. Shot selection, ball movement, transition defense [is what has hurt].”