In the regular season opener, Iowa State blew out Savannah State, 113-71 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones used a 23-6 run late in the first half to take control in a fast-paced, sometimes sloppy game. Monte Morris led the Cyclones with 21 points and 11 assists to kick off his senior season in style, and Naz Mitrou-Long flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Savannah State set the pace early, using backcourt pressure and questionable shot selection to get both teams up and down the court. Iowa State’s skill and patience eventually broke through, using its own press and fast-break opportunities to stretch the lead to 24 with 4:36 left in the first half.
The Cyclones used a balanced attack, getting most of their points at the rim on a night when 3-pointers weren’t falling. Morris, a preseason first-team All-American, made things look easy, using his trademark change of pace to penetrate and finish several uncontested layups. Morris finished a nearly flawless first half with 14 points, seven assists and zero turnovers.
Naz Mitrou-Long looked strong after discomfort from double hip surgery forced him to miss the final 27 games of last season. The fifth-year senior used his strength and slashing ability to make aggressive moves to the hoop for several easy buckets. His three-point stroke was a little rusty, making just two of his eight attempts from beyond the arc.
The Cyclone defense moved from a three-quarters-court press to a switching man-to-man with occasional flashes of zone throughout the first half. Savannah State was content to launch quick, contested threes from the get-go. The Tigers’ accuracy issues made things easy for Iowa State’s perimeter defenders and often fueled the Cyclones’ fast-break offense.
Savannah State’s pressure did force Iowa State into several turnovers and general sloppy play. But Iowa State’s size and talent proved too much in the opening half, holding a 59-38 lead at the break.
It was more of the same in the second half with the Cyclones dominating in the paint. Freshman Solomon Young flashed his offensive potential, scoring 11 points in just more than two minutes of play during a second-half run that extended lead to 33.
Merril Holden had an impressive debut, displaying his athleticism on his way to 12 points and five rebounds. Matt Thomas chipped in 14 points, but struggled from deep, shooting just 2-8 from three.
Nick Weiler-Babb had a steady, all-around performance with a couple of highlight-reel dunks, backing up preseason praise from Morris and head coach Steve Prohm.
Deonte Burton, who is expected by many to have a breakout season, had problems with Savannah State’s quickness, but still managed to add seven points and nine rebounds. Darrell Bowie tied Mitrou-Long for the team lead in rebounds with ten off the bench.
Oh, and Stu Nezlek was not just a feel-good crowd favorite tonight. He actually looked improved, finishing a nice move in the paint, kicking out to Jakolby Long for an open three and grabbing a defensive rebound.
It was a good start for the 24th-ranked Cyclones, showing their ability to score points in a hurry while sharing the ball and getting everyone involved. Morris looked like the best point guard in the nation, and the untested bigs looked comfortable in their roles as garbage men that will benefit from playing with great guards. Iowa State was uncharacteristically bad from three, making just eight of 26 attempts. And 20 turnovers is way too many against an outmatched foe, but I wouldn’t expect either of those issues to linger for this guard-heavy lineup.
The Cyclones will look to clean things up and build on their impressive first outing on Monday against Mount St. Mary’s at Hilton Coliseum.