After a pair of losses that had many wondering just how long Iowa State was going to be in rebuilding mode, a simple switch in the backcourt gave its fans some hope this season may not be so bad after all. The Cyclones attempt to build upon their first win of the season Friday when they face Tulsa in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Conway, S.C.
Iowa State opened the season with double-digit loss at Missouri and at home against Milwaukee, failing to crack 60 points in either contest. The Cyclones moved Nick Weiler-Babb from the wing to the point prior to Thursday’s opening-round game against Appalachian State and the results were immediate, as nearly every member of the backcourt enjoyed a career game in a 104-98 victory. “(The move) gave Donovan (Jackson) and Lindell (Wigginton) more freedom on the wings. They could run freely. It took a little burden off their shoulders. It helped them a lot,” Weiler-Babb told the Des Moines Register. The Golden Hurricane advanced to the semifinal round later Thursday night, racing out to a 16-point halftime lead in a wire-to-wire 81-74 win over Western Michigan. “That was a great win for us. Our kids came out and battled hard early. … It was pleasing that we played 11 guys and 10 guys scored, so we kind of shared things around,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith told reporters.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT IOWA STATE (1-2): Jackson, who totaled 10 points on 4-of-20 shooting in his first two games, erupted for a career-best 26 points on 7-for-11 from the field, complementing an all-around performance from Weiler-Babb (personal bests of 23 points, seven assists and seven rebounds). “We’d been a slow-paced team the past two games, so we had to switch that up. Having the ball in my hands and determining the actions - I liked it,” Weiler-Babb told the Des Moines Register. Wigginton also had a career-high 17 points, while fellow freshman Cameron Lard gave the Cyclones an inside presence they had been lacking after serving a suspension, becoming the first Iowa State player since Georges Niang in 2012 to post a double-double in his debut with 12 points and 11 boards.
ABOUT TULSA (2-1): The Golden Hurricane managed to win despite a 3-for-18 effort beyond the arc, two of which came from sophomore guard Curran Scott, who became the third different player to lead the Golden Hurricane in scoring this season with 17 points Thursday. Senior forward Junior Etou contributed 15 points and is averaging 22.5 over his last two games after a two-point showing in the season opener, while Sterling Taplin poured in 10 points in only 18 minutes of action to reach double figures for the third time in as many games. Reserve freshman guard Elijah Joiner tied or bested most of his totals from the first two games, finishing with 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in 23 minutes.
1. Friday’s winner will face either Illinois State or Boise State in Sunday’s championship game.
2. Iowa State converted 51.6 percent from the field and 43.5 percent beyond the arc Thursday after entering the game shooting 38.8 and 26.5, respectively, over the first two contests.
3. Haith is 4-0 all-time at this event, winning the inaugural Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2007 with Miami (Fla.).
PREDICTION: Tulsa 83, Iowa State 76