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Island Champs

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Another double-digit deficit, another gritty comeback win. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but after trailing by 11 in the first half of Wednesday's Diamond Head Classic final, Iowa State gutted out yet another come-from-behind win to move to 11-0 - the best start in school history.

Boise State proved to be just as salty as their reputation suggested and shot lights out in the first half to go into the break with a 7-point lead. If you don't strike that last nail in the coffin, though, this Iowa State team will fight back and they did just that on Christmas night in Honolulu as the Cyclones prevailed, 70-66.

DeAndre Kane might have turned in his best performance as a Cyclone as he scored 23 points on 8-14 shooting, including a jaw-dropping 4-6 from outside. It's no secret that Kane struggles from beyond the arc, so to see him attempt six 3's and actually hit on four of them was one of the biggest surprises of this entire tournament as far as things go for the Cardinal and Gold.

Perhaps more surprising, or alarming depending on who you talk to, was that Iowa State managed to win this tournament with what basically amounted to a 4-man team. Kane, Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue accounted for all but 23 of Iowa State's points over the course of the three games. That's not a misprint. Every other Cyclone combined for 23 whopping points in three games and Naz Long had 8 of those against "Georges" Mason in the opener.

I've said countless times this year that depth can be overrated and in a lot of cases, usually is, but Iowa State has to get more than 7.67 points per game from everyone else that plays. That's just not going to cut it. Fred Hoiberg basically made his thoughts about the bench quite apparent against Boise State when with 13:44 left in the game and with both Niang and Ejim with three fouls, he chose to not rest either, despite the fact that a timeout had just been called and the under-12 TV timeout was less than two minutes of game time away. Yes, that was a crucial juncture of the game, but that's typically a time where coaches will try to rest their stars by getting them two timeouts while having them only miss around two minutes of game time. Hoiberg left Niang and Ejim in the game and the gamble paid off. The lesson here is that there's a reason I'm a hack blogger and Fred Hoiberg is Fred Hoiberg, but those gambles are risky and might not work next time that situation arises.

Other Notes and Thoughts

  • With this win, it's quite likely that Iowa State will enter Big 12 play undefeated. 40 minutes against Northern Illinois on New Year's Eve sits between the Cyclones and 12-0. The Huskies aren't very good and with that game being a sell out at home, the chance for an upset just isn't likely.
  • Iowa State came into this game leading the country in assists, averaging over 19 per game. They only managed 7 on Wednesday night. That's the bad. The good? Iowa State only turned it over six times.
  • Niang didn't quite make it five straight games with 20 points, but he did score 16 and nailed two 3's. Just an outstanding stretch by Niang.
  • Ejim notched a second consecutive double-double, going for 15 and 10 and hit 9-10 free throws. Raise your hand if you ever thought Ejim would be an 86% free throw shooter.
  • A lot has been made about Matt Thomas' inability to put the ball in the basket more frequently. To that, I say be patient. Thomas is pretty much being shadow-guarded at this point and it's rare that he gets a clean look. The kid has a near perfect stroke and is still finding ways to impact the game. He'll get it figured out and he needs to keep shooting. A buddy of mine noted that a big part of Thomas' game in high school came from the mid-range. As a freshman, though, he's being used solely on the perimeter and either isn't getting those looks from 10-15 feet or he's just unable to generate that type of shot at this point. Still, I think a few breakout games are in store for this kid and he's only a freshman. He'll be fine.
  • Another 13 and 9 for Hogue. Who would have thought that type of line would be an expectation from him coming into the season?
  • There wasn't a true resume-worthy win for Iowa State in this tournament, but make no mistake, those are three solid wins and that will help Iowa State's seed come Selection Sunday. "Georges" Mason, Akron and Boise State are all top 100 teams and Boise State especially could end up being a nice win or even a top-50 RPI win as the season plays out.
  • Kane was named the tournament MVP and while I can't really argue against that, I would have given it to Niang. Still, with the performance Kane put together in the final, I suppose that is going to carry a little more weight.