"Obviously we don't want to be down 10 or 12 points in any game, but if it is that then we've got to deal with it and fight back," said associate head coach Steve Barnes. "If we're up by any amount at all, we've got to be able to deal with that. It's a matter of staying with it and doing the best we can on each possession."
Iowa State hosts its in-state rival for an unprecedented second time at 7 p.m. in Hilton Coliseum. Tickets sold out in two hours Thursday morning, less than a day after the it drew 13,955 for an opening-round NIT game against Wichita State. The game will not be televised.
"There was a line wrapped around the Jacobson Building trying to get tickets," Barnes said. "It's already sold out. We very much understand how big this is for almost everyone in this state. It's good, but the players have to remain focus and do what they need to do. We can't get caught up in the hype of the game."
The Cyclones advanced with a 76-65 victory over the Sycamores, while the Hawkeyes topped Valparaiso Monday night, 62-60, less than 24 hours after the NIT announced its opening-round pairings.
Both programs have never met in the postseason, with Iowa leading the all-time series by a 38-17 margin. The Cyclones, however, have won 10 of those games in the past 19 seasons and are 9-7 at Hilton Coliseum. The home-and-home is a first for the series, but something that Eustachy would like to see more of a mainstay.
"It's what I've always wanted since I've been here," he said. "I've always thought we should play a home-and-home. My dream comes true, but it'll probably come out and bite me in the fanny about this time Friday. But it's great for the state of Iowa and great for the people. I wish we'd do it every year."
Now, in a season that left fans from both schools disappointed at times, ISU and Iowa will square off in what figures to be another in a long line of memorable clashes.
"It's a huge rivalry between the two schools," said Jackson Vroman, who managed to score 11 of his 13 points in the second half with four fouls. "We're going to really have to step up our intensity to beat those guys. We can't rely on coming back on them this time. (Against Wichita State) we had to rely on some hot shooting and we don't want to have to do that against Iowa. We need to put together enough defensive stops."
On the top of the defensive scouting report is Iowa shooting guard Leslie, a senior averaging a team-best 15.6 points per game, and the potent combination of Jared Reiner and Greg Brunner. Finally, after two-plus seasons of finding his game at the Division I level, Reiner is coming of his own. He's averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds over his last eight games. Brunner, fellow true freshman Jeff Horner and Worley make out a strong in-state starting five.
ISU faces a number of different challenges in containing the Hawkeyes, said Barnes.
"Our transition defense has to be solid – Horner and Leslie are really good of bringing the ball up the floor, pitching it ahead and getting it to the wings," he said. "Brunner is really good in transition at getting to the basket and getting fouled.
"Then when we get back, we have to do a great job of keeping the ball out of the post. They really like to penetrate, get it in close and up on the glass. Right there with those two things, we've got to do a good job of blocking out and rebounding."
ISU's facing a difficult Missouri Valley team that nearly knocked off league power Creighton this month, and following that up with a Big 10 squad will be a good experience for a team that returns nearly every player next season.
"It's really good for our program, because we've had these extra days of practice," Barnes said. "We're going on our fourth or fifth extra day of practice now. To be able to play in these types of games and against this kind of competition is great. We felt like Wichita State was one of the better teams we've seen this season. They're well coached and had good players, and now we're going to see another one of those teams in Iowa."