IOWA CITY, IOWA — The messages that filled player’s social media accounts in the hours leading up to Friday’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena made it abundantly clear that Iowa State’s bout with Iowa would carry with it more meaning than a rivalry game simply could.
This one would be for Bryce Dejean-Jones, their suspended teammate who watched from across town on a television screen in his hotel room. Players posted pictures of their teammate to social media before tipoff and the message was clear. The show still needed to go on.
And what a show it would ultimately be.
Iowa State started fast in front of a hostile crowd and used a timely stretch of lights-out shooting to begin the second half in cruising to a 90-75 win against Iowa, the fourth win for the Cyclones against their rival in the last five tries.
“This defined us. This really showed character,” guard Naz Long said afterward. “All the guys in there before the game were just saying, ‘Let’s do this for Bryce.’ He’s one of our brothers. We didn’t let adversity take us down. We responded.”
The team learned of Dejean-Jones’ suspension — stemming from his arrest early Thursday morning — sometime late that same afternoon. Someone would need to fill the void of Iowa State’s No. 2 scorer, and scoring proved to be aplenty for the Cyclones on Friday night.
Iowa State started fast, leading by a slim margin for much of the first half. The sequence in the final seconds of the first period — a block by Monte Morris on the defensive end taken by Matt Thomas on three or four dribbles to the other side for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer — led to a five-point halftime lead.
That sequence also proved to be a momentum shifter. After Georges Niang missed the first Iowa State shot of the second half, which sent him to 1-of-9 on the night, he canned a contested 3-pointer in transition on the next possession.
“I want to say heat-check, but there was no heat,” Niang said. “I was just trying to really assert myself.”
Iowa State rattled off 10 consecutive made baskets following the missed shot that opened the second half, going on a 21-2 run and extending it’s lead to 24 points just 5 minutes and 20 seconds into the second period.
The lack of offense from Dejean-Jones was made up by Abdel Nader, who, after starting the season 0-of-9 beyond the arc, scored 19 points on four 3-pointers in the strongest effort of his young Iowa State career. Naz Long scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, five of which were 3s.
“It was a little bit of everybody,” Long said of picking up the scoring. “I feel like a lot of guys showed a lot of positive things about their character. Coach kept telling us he wishes he could play tonight but it was something we just had to stay calm, act like we’re in Hilton, it’s just another gym. That’s what we did tonight. We were very cool and everything worked out fine.”
Iowa State, which adjusted its game plan Thursday rather than scrapping it, led or was tied for 39 minutes and 11 seconds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We, I thought, followed the game plan as well as we have maybe ever since I’ve been here as far as what we wanted to give up and what we wanted to take away,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Niang was presented with a question afterward: Wasn’t this win rather impressive given the lack of Dejean-Jones and big man Jameel McKay?
“What’s impressive?” Niang countered. “We’re [No. 14] in the country. So the rest of us stink? You know what I’m saying? We have a great team. We have an even better coach, so I don’t know why people are so surprised.”