Iowa State connected on 9 of 12 three pointers in the first half to open up a 10-point lead at intermission, then held off Texas' rally in the second half to pick up a 77-71 win in Ames. The Longhorns actually went on a 15-5 run across the last few seconds of the first half and first 5 minutes of the second, but J'Covan Brown twisted his ankle after making a beautiful dish to pull Texas within 2 at 49-47, and would not return to the game. As soon as Brown sat, the Cyclones went on a 15-5 lead of their own, and though Texas' showed a lot of fight in trying to rally back, they ran out of gas at the end trying to score.
I don't want to rehash my entire preview of the game, but it more or less foretold exactly how this one unfolded, right down to the final score. I'm not at all glad to have been right about it, but my particular worries were more or less what undid Texas tonight:
I'm not feeling great about this match up heading in, for two main reasons. First, I'm just not sure what we're going to do defensively in terms of guarding White, and I worry a lot about our ability to do so effectively without racking up fouls. I think this is a game we need Jonathan Holmes to play well in, and I'm worried about him spending large chunks of the game on the bench with foul trouble. And second, it seems that Myck Kabongo is still in the adjustment phase with respect to playing against power-conference athletes. He's clearly progressed since the beginning of the year, and he seemed to advance to the point where he was starting to be able to put it all together against mid-major teams/players, but following his no-show in Chapel Hill and somewhat tentative showing in our last tune up versus Rice, I'm worried that he might struggle some at Iowa State. Again, I think this game is winnable if Brown and Kabongo both play strong basketball, but there are a lot of factors that make me hesitant to pick this young Texas team in its conference opener, on the road, against a team that can shoot the ball well and rack up fouls on you. I'll be thrilled to be wrong: Iowa State 76 Texas 73
Defending White and ISU without racking up fouls: We actually caught a bit of a break (one of the few we caught all game) when Royce White picked up his second foul on a charge just six minutes into the game, forcing him to the bench for about 10 minutes, but once he came back he was every bit the match up problem I anticipated. White finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds, which isn't so bad, but that was in part because he managed to make just 8 of his 17 free throw attempts.
I noted that I didn't think Wangmene couldn't stay in front of White and that "I'm not sure that either [Bond or Holmes] can do the job for a sustained period of time without fouling, and at their current foul rates White might have both on the bench with fouls in a matter of minutes." White sent Jaylen Bond to locker room with a final line reminiscent of Chapman's against Rice: 11 minutes, 0 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls. Holmes managed to stay on the floor for 21 minutes, but also fouled out after scoring 5 points and grabbing 5 boards.
Iowa State's dangerous three-point shooting ability, versus the likelihood of a young Texas team shooting poorly: Even after a much cooler second half, the Cyclones still finished the game 10 of 21 from beyond the arc, a huge advantage over Texas' 3-14 shooting from downtown. Texas did wind up shooting a healthy 19 of 30 on its two-point shots, led by the outstanding performances by its two upperclassmen Brown (6 of 8 on his 2PFG) and Chapman (7-10). The freshmen really struggled, though: Sheldon McClellan finished the game shooting 2-11, Kabongo went 2-9, Lewis went 2-8, Gibbs went 0-2, Holmes went 2-4, and Bond fouled out without getting off a shot.
Making up the difference if Iowa State shoots the three well: I noted that if Iowa State connected on a barrage of threes and if the Longhorns weren't shooting the ball particularly well themselves, we'd have to make up the difference with efficient two-point scoring, winning the turnover battle, and securing offensive boards. ISU did rain threes and we were cold from the outside, but we came pretty close to making up the difference anyway, by besting the Cyclones on the offensive glass and with more efficient scoring inside the arc. Unfortunately, our youth betrayed us in the turnover department, where we coughed it up 16 times, 11 of which came from freshmen. Iowa State had 15 turnovers of their own, but when the opponent destroys you from the three point line, you've got to better them in the other areas to make up the difference.
There are no moral victories when you're counting wins -- and tonight's was an important one in the race to 10 -- but I do want to close on a more optimistic note. Even though we lost the game and struggled in the ways that I worried we would, I don't think think this was quite as discouraging a loss as it might seem. First of all, we were really grooving beautifully when J'Covan's dime brought us to within 2 points and he turned his ankle. He left with 19 points, 3 assists, 1 turnover, and 3 steals, and was breaking down ISU's defense in the ways our freshmen guards were struggling to do. It's not much use to say we would have won had he stayed in the game, but I do think it fair to feel good about what was happening before he got hurt.
Second, I thought we needed Jonathan Holmes to turn in a strong performance to give us a strong chance to win, but while he didn't fare particularly well, Clint Chapman absolutely exploded tonight in Ames. Coming off a comically horrible performance against Rice in his first career start, Chapman got the starting nod again and was the best player on the floor on Wednesday night. Yes, you read that right: Clint Chapman. Beast mode. Best player on the floor. The senior played 34 hard minutes, scoring 19 points and 14 rebounds, both highs for the game, and top marks for Chapman's entire career. We'll have to see how much of this sticks going forward, but it didn't look like a fluky performance, not the way Chapman was getting it done. If that's the version of Clint Chapman we're going to get for this Big 12 season, tonight's game was a huge development, and one that could substantially mitigate the L in the standings.
Third, the quality of your mistakes is meaningful, and in Texas' case tonight, we lost the game because a bunch of freshmen made a bunch of freshmen mistakes. Sheldon McClellan falling asleep in transition throughout the first half, helping fuel Iowa State's first-half rally to open up a lead. Myck Kabongo losing his bearings for a stretch after Brown went out with injury, shooting when he should have passed and passing when he should have shot. Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes using up precious fouls on moving screens. Julien Lewis shooting it like his name is Gary Johnson, ignoring the red-hot Clint Chapman.
While it's certainly the case that these freshmen have to keep improving if they're going to win enough Big 12 games to make the Tournament, that still seems within reach where so many of the mistakes are attributable to experience. And I agree with Rick's post-game comments: I thought the freshmen really fought in the second half after Brown went down and Iowa State opened it up to a 14 point lead again. We didn't get all the way back, but we played a lot better this time around than when Brown was lost against NC State.
And finally, maybe it's just me, and how hard I was pulling for us to win, but this just didn't seem like our night. Whether it was Sterling Gibbs draining a three pointer a fraction of a second after the shot clock expired, or losing our best and most important player just as we were seizing control of the game, the ball just didn't seem to be bouncing our way in Ames tonight. That doesn't help us in the standings, but in terms of looking ahead towards the rest of the season, tonight's loss doesn't make me any less hopeful than I was heading into the game.
We are a young team with lots we need to improve if we're to get to the Tournament, and while stealing a road win tonight would have been hugely encouraging and helpful, I'm not newly discouraged from the performance in Ames. If Brown's ankle injury doesn't keep him on the sidelines, and if Chapman can maintain a good chunk of what we saw from him tonight, if anything there may be reason to be a bit more hopeful from tonight's game, despite the loss.
We'll see. If Texas doesn't win its next two versus Oklahoma State and A&M at home, all bets are off.