Cyclones focus on grit, details and on-ball defense as matchup with No. 1 Baylor looms

Jan 25, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Terrence Lewis (24) makes a layup against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Iowa State guard Terrence Lewis got the look he wanted. An open corner 3. A chance to cut what was once a 19-point deficit Saturday at No. 17 Auburn to just one point materialized, but being off a fraction of an inch ultimately doomed the spirited comeback effort.

 “Bounced off the rim,” said Lewis, who nonetheless played a major role in the Cyclones’ second-half resurgence. “We’ve just got to bounce back and get ready for Baylor.”

 That’s No. 1 Baylor (17-1, 6-0 Big 12) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPNU) at Hilton Coliseum. That’s a Bears team that looks to start 7-0 in league play for the first time since the 1958 squad went 10-0 in the old Southwestern Conference. That’s a towering challenge for the Cyclones (9-10, 2-4), who continue to seek consistency on both ends of the floor, but clearly kindled a plenty of heart and intensity while mounting runs of 13-2 and 9-0 in the second half against the Tigers in an 80-76 loss.

“I thought we competed so much better in the second half,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “On the glass. On both ends, offensively and defensively. And then we started spreading them out, attacking the basket — if you look at a couple different things in the half court, to open some things up. Terrence makes that 3, it’s a one-point game with 10 seconds to go and you’ve got a chance to win it or tie it.”

 Therein lies the rub. The Cyclones’ margin for error is so small, the game shrinks from one of inches to one of millimeters.

 Lewis — on a bum ankle, no less — came off the bench and played with grit and resolve all day at Auburn, scoring 12 points, snaring two steals and grabbing four of ISU’s 17 offensive rebounds.

 “He played really hard,” Prohm said. 

 Lewis’s main issue mirrors his team’s: Consistency on both ends.

 “Can he be consistent in understanding what we’re trying to do offensively?” Prohm said. “Like you watch the (previous) Baylor game, he checks in the game, first catch, it’s a one-pass 3, contested — and he knows it’s a bad shot, but he knows it’s a bad shot after he shot it.”

Flashback two weeks.

 ISU trailed the Bears by just three points near the end of the first half, but a foul on a 3-point attempt allowed that deficit to swell to six.

 Baylor built that advantage to 19 points early in the second half and the Cyclones had no sustained answer for it.

 So consider what happened Saturday down South to signify marked progress.

 “It’s just something we can build on,” said star sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton, who scored just six points in that 68-55 loss two weeks ago at Baylor. “To keep taking the good with the bad and building on that. Just got to keep building on it as we go on and move forward and be able to use it against Baylor.”

 The Bears boast one of the nation’s top defenses, which ranks fourth nationally in efficiency, according to KenPom. Baylor hasn’t allowed a team to score more than 68 points since an 97-78 win over No. 8 Villanova on Nov. 24. It’s the only time a team has cracked the 70-point mark against the Bears, which have won four straight against the Cyclones in games played in Ames and Waco.

 “The number one thing, if you had to pick one thing, we’ve got to guard the ball a lot better,” Prohm said of the key to this game — and every one to come. “We’ve got to compete a lot better on the ball. We play too passive on the ball, afraid to get beat off the dribble or whatever it may be. We’ve got to be more aggressive on the ball they way people try to get into us. The teams we struggle with at times are people that really try to get into us and Baylor’s going to try to do that, so we’ve got to spread them out. But we’ve got to guard the ball. That’s the number one thing.”

 Do that Wednesday, and it gets interesting against the nation’s top-ranked team. The Cyclones fully expect that to happen, but only if they can take care of those “little things,” so the line between winning or losing isn’t demarcated by one pressure-packed shot.

 “We’ve just got to go out there and play very hard,” Lewis said. “Play the right way, like coach Prohm texted me last night. We’ve just got to keep focusing on that right now.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.

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