AMES — Naz Long’s a stand-up player.
But when it comes to ISU’s all-important spacing on offense, the No. 11 Cyclones’ most proficient 3-point shooter does anything but stand still.
That’s why he took the blame for the poor spacing that established an off-kilter trend in Monday’s turnover-filled 89-76 loss at No. 9 Kansas.
“When we have our spacing right there’s always lanes because we have the shooters, one through four, one through five sometimes on the court,” said Long, who leads the Cyclones (16-5, 6-3) in 3-pointers made (54) and 3-point percentage (41.4). ‘When things get congested and guys try to make plays into small spaces, things just usually don’t work out. it started with me. I had a couple turnovers early and I was trying to do exactly that. With that being said, it kind of all falls hand in hand with the spacing.”
Getting back to being themselves on the offensive end along with renewed vigor defending the 3-point line became the primary focal points in practice as Saturday’s 1 p.m. rematch with Texas Tech (12-11, 2-8) looming.
Kansas took advantage of meek closeouts to drill 10 of its 21 long-range attempts. Texas hit 10 second-half 3s to turn a potential ISU blowout a week earlier into a tense 3-point win. And the Red Raiders — who are feast or utter famine from beyond the arc — made a shocking 11 of 24 against the Cyclones in an even more shocking 78-73 upset in Lubbock.
Bottom line: each of ISU’s latest four opponents have outperformed their season average from long distance — and by a fairly wide margin each time, in terms of both volume and accuracy.
“Teams are obviously shooting way too high a percentage, they’re shooting too easy; our urgency isn’t where it needs to be,” Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We watched a lot of film on just that (Wednesday) — on how we’re giving them up. Is it the schemes? Is it the effort? What is it?”
Paging record-setting point guard, Monté Morris …
“Effort,” he said. “I think it’s effort and just knowing deep down that you’re not going to let your man get good comfortable shots going straight up. I just feel like in our past (recent) games, we’ve been lackadaisical, including myself, in closing out the guys — just the effort part of the game. But we’ve see it on film. Film don’t lie and we’ve got to get better.”
Neither do statistics. In league games, ISU ranks last in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to convert at a 38 percent clip.
Overall, the Cyclones rate 219th in the category (34.6 percent), though at times they’ve shined in that area, too, as their first five Big 12 opponents all shot below their season 3-point average.
“It’s a lot us, there’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said about recent shortfalls in long-range defense. “Have we played off some shooters who haven’t shot a very high percentage? Yes, but we’ve got burned with that as well. A lot of it is, for us, you’ve got to run them off. You’ve got to run them off that line. You’ve got to make them take those long 2-point shots, outside the paint.”
Hoiberg said practices designed to address the problems have been intense and among the season’s best.
That’s the thing about ISU: once an issue’s identified, it’s usually rectified. That’s one of the reason’s poor spacing crops up so rarely. The Cyclones are shooting a Big 12-best 47.6 percent in league games and continue to lead the nation in assists per game at 17.8.
So the necessary tune-ups and overhauls were handled this week behind closed doors — on both ends of the floor.
“We’re getting back to the basics,” Long said.
They’re fortifying themselves for the home stretch, too. The last half of the conference season begins Saturday. In five weeks, the Big 12 Tournament starts and much larger goals swing into view.
“Give our guys credit for getting in there and trying to learn from mistakes,” Hoiberg said of his team, which has yet to suffer back-to-back losses. “Now you can’t keep having learning experiences as we get into the last half of this conference season. You can’t continue to, ‘Well, we shouldn’t have done this early in the game.’ You hope you learned that, we have learned that. Now we start trending towards playing our best basketball of the year, which we’ve done the last couple of years. These guys, again, I look at what happened in (Wednesday’s) practice and again, I thought it was one of the better practices that we’ve had, especially correcting the mistakes we talked about in our film session. But again, that’s got to trend upward now and not just get to a point and then take another dip. It’s got to be consistent for the rest of the year.”
KenPom.com pegs ISU’s chances of winning Saturday at 93 percent. Projected score: Cyclones 80, Red Raiders 64. … Morris had a career-high four turnovers to go with five assists in the Kansas loss, but the NCAA single-season record holder in assist-to-turnover ratio (set as a freshman last season) still leads the nation in that regard with a mark of 4.5 to 1. … Niang is averaging 22 points in the past three games and is shooting 63.6 percent (7 of 11) from 3-point range in that span.