NEW YORK — Friday could have gone one of two ways for Dustin Hogue, who celebrated his New York homecoming by having his last name shaved into the back of his head.
In front of enough friends and family members to fill a subway car and under the lights of Madison Square Garden, Hogue could have wilted. Or he could have been the usual Dustin Hogue, contributing something like 14 points and seven rebounds.
But if you're gonna embroider your noggin with your own name, you better go big, or else you look like an idiot. So Hogue skipped the first two options and turned in a career performance, scoring 34 points on 15-for-19 shooting in the 81-76 loss to UConn. Without Georges Niang down low, it was just what the Cyclones needed and more. The gut-punch: On any other night, Hogue scores 34 and ISU wins comfortably, but he and Monté Morris were the only starters to shoot better than 50 percent.
"We didn't come out with the win, but to play in the Garden, it's something I dreamed about as a kid," Hogue said. "So this opportunity was special."
Hogue did Iowa State's dirty work this season, his first in Ames after transferring from Indian Hills. About 12 points, a little over eight rebounds per game. His season finale and, really, his entire postseason (17.7 points per game), suggests he can take on a more demanding role next season for the Cyclones, which finished No. 9 in the AP poll and will lose DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim.
Can Hogue pour in 34 points on the regular? No. But as senior, Hogue should be good for around 15 a pop. Mix that with his rebounding — tops on the team in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, per kenpom.com — and the Cyclones will bring back a top-three Big 12 small forward in Hogue, a top-three point guard in Morris and a top-three post scorer in Niang.
"I think I can up my game in every way possible," Hogue said in a mostly-empty Cyclones locker room late Friday night. "This is the type of role I want to take on next year."
It's not all about offense, though. For Iowa State to sustain excellence through conference play and into the tournament, its defense could use some improvement (No. 74 nationally in adjusted efficiency, second-worst among Sweet Sixteen teams). Hogue realizes that. He's 6-foot-6 and gifted with plenty of springiness but wasn't a shot-blocking factor in 2013-14. He'll try to improve that where he can, while the team will benefit from the addition of Jameel McKay, who averaged two blocks a game at Indian Hills in 2012-13. Really, though, Hogue just wants to shore up his play on that end, correcting some less-obvious issues, like running shooters off the three-point line and stopping dribble penetration.
"I want to be better defensively," Hogue said. "Players are gonna score. [Against UConn], we played the way we play — we just didn't knock down shots — but the key to every game is defense. No matter how good you score, if you're not gonna defend the ball, you're not gonna win."
As departing seniors Kane and Ejim sat to Hogue's left in front of their lockers, slicing off ankle tape and rummaging through their backpacks, Hogue was asked what he learned the most from the two first-team All-Big 12 players his first year in Ames.
Hogue took a big breath.
"I'm an emotional player, I use that emotion to fuel me," he said. "Sometimes I use it negatively. The way Melvin and Kane handle themselves through adversity, that's unbelievable to me. I think I can take that from them the most."
Hogue is too hard on himself, wincing and muttering under his breath when he misses free throws. Kane struggled with this, too. Hogue works the officials, sometimes during game action, and protests just about every call against him. Ejim struggled with this, too.
The seniors reeled in their composure. Hogue watched.
"Mel sat me down and told me even if the ref doesn't make a good call, let him know he made a good call, so then he'll get the next one for you," Hogue said. "I tried to use that during the season. It worked. I can apply that [mentality] to myself next season."
A far cry from Hogue's November psyche.
"I was getting into a wrestling match with the referee every game early in the season," he said. "I didn't agree with any call, so I'd complain. That's not a way to get on a ref's good side."
The watching-and-learning period is over. Barring the addition of a graduate transfer, Hogue will the only Iowa State senior to play more than a limited role. This isn't Ejim and Kane's team anymore. It's up to Niang, Hogue and Morris. If Friday was any indication, the Cyclones will be alright.