AMES — Offense is a lot easier when you have a dude.
Iowa State has had a lot of dudes, sometimes multiple dudes at a time, and they have another one this season in 6-foot-5 sophomore point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
What is a dude, you ask?
Simply, a dude is someone you can throw the ball to when things are not going very well for your team and say, “Turn this around for us.”
Georges Niang was a dude. Monte Morris was a dude. DeAndre Kane was a dude. Marial Shayok was a dude. All four of those guys played with a bunch of other dudes and that is part of why their teams were all really good.
Tyrese Haliburton is a dude, too. He proved it again on Tuesday night at Hilton Coliseum while scoring 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to go along with nine assists, three steals and a rebound.
Despite shooting just 5-of-22 from 3-point range, the Cyclones’ second consecutive troubling performance from deep, Haliburton and his teammates were hardly challenged by Southern Miss, dispatching them to the tune of 73-45 in front of 13,810 fans.
The Cyclones really struggled to put the ball in the basket for large stretches of the game, but luckily Southern Miss struggled even more, including an 0-of-16 performance from 3-point range.
Plus, the Cyclones have a dude named Tyrese Haliburton.
“He’s our best playmaker,” Steve Prohm said after the game while making perhaps the biggest understatement of the week. “He needs to get downhill. He needs to cause rotation. He can find the right guys. The one time in the second half he found Prentiss for that three. The game was kind of decided at that point but still, that’s the kind of plays he needs to make.”
Haliburton needs to make plays like he did multiple times on Tuesday driving to the basket and finding a wide-open shooter at the 3-point line. The Cyclones need the guy catching that pass to finish the deal as well though and Nixon did a couple of times while scoring 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting and 2-of-6 from three.
They need Haliburton to make plays like he did on the team’s final possession of the first half when he found sophomore big man George Conditt, who continues to push for more minutes and did again on this night scoring nine points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots, for an alley-oop dunk to cap a big run heading into halftime.
Haliburton is a dude and the Cyclones are really relying on their dude right now.
“Teams collapse when I get to the rim and that leaves people open. I try to find them the best I can,” Haliburton said. “Sometimes, teams might fan out and not take me when I go to the rim so that opens things up for me as well. I got the free throw line more today probably than I have all year. It’s just staying consistent with that and good things happen when I get to the rim.”
Having a dude is all fine and dandy, but it can spell trouble when your one dude is forced into doing a little too much. Iowa State’s 2017-18 roster had three guys who probably fit into the true dude category but one of them, Nick Weiler-Babb, broke down before the season ended due to having to basically do everything from score to rebound to pass to defend and everything else. That can largely be blamed on a poor supporting cast of role players. The other two, Lindell Wigginton and Cameron Lard, were freshmen forced into huge roles from the moment they stepped foot on the court.
Morris was clearly the leader of Iowa State’s 2016-17 team, but he had Naz Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas alongside him. That’s four dudes to go along with a solid group of rotational players that includes a freshman year Solomon Young, who scored a game-high 14 points and grabbed six boards on Tuesday in the fourth game of his redshirt junior year.
Georges Niang had almost all of those guys around him during his senior season. The list of dudes he played with during his entire Iowa State career is too long for me to spell out right here right now because it frankly does not matter.
The point of this entire exercise is to ask who the other dude is on this Iowa State team? The Cyclones are going to need someone to truly emerge as a dude alongside Haliburton or else things could get interesting once the calendar turns to January.
You are walking down a slippery slope in the Big 12 when almost your entire offense is built around the ability of one player, just ask Trae Young. Iowa State has players on its roster who have shown flashes of that ability whether it be Nixon, Rasir Bolton, Young, Conditt or Michael Jacobson. But they are just flashes.
Flashes do not win basketball games in the Big 12 or get you into the NCAA Tournament very often. Relying on one dude to carry you through your entire season rarely does either.
“I think we’re trying maybe a conscious effort to throw it inside more than we probably have in the last couple years. Solomon’s done a really good job with that of scoring around the rim, being physical. We need to do that,” Prohm said when asked if he’s concerned teams will start to pack the paint to prevent Haliburton from penetrating out of a lack of fear for the Cyclones’ shooters. “They spend a lot of time in the gym. The team’s combined (on Tuesday) for about 5-for-40 from three, which is terrible, but I need to go look at the 22 shots and just see. If 15 or 18 of them are good, we just need to continue to shoot them and work at it. Eventually, we’ll have a big night and hopefully, it is in the Bahamas. When we went 3-for-25 the other day, I probably would have said maybe five don’t shoot. We would have been about 2-for-20. I worked Rasir out the other day for 20 minutes, I saw him down there shooting so I went and spent some time with him, and, man, he wore (the net) out. This is off action shots, not just catch and shoot. Prentiss does the same thing. Tyrese does the same thing. Tre, Caleb, all those guys I think we mid-30s or better 3-point shooters. Some tonight I thought were worse than the other night, though. I thought we forced a couple tonight. Some you’ve got to make to really extend leads. It will get better. It’s a small sample size right now so the percentages are really going to be inflated one way or the other.”