Before Melvin Ejim made his triumphant return from a knee injury weeks early, the Iowa State Cyclones sat squarely on the shoulders of senior point guard DeAndre Kane. Kane has had a good start in his first season with the Cyclones. He is second in the Big 12 Conference in assists and seventh in rebounds. His shooting has dipped a bit since the return of Ejim, but is still averaging 14.1 points per game.
Christmas Day the Cyclones would battle it out with the Boise State Broncos in the Diamond Head Classic championship game. The Broncos are the mid-major foil of the Cyclones; a small team that scores in bunches from outside. Unlike their previous match up with their last ranked opponent, a bigger Kentucky squad, Boise State should have been at a greater disadvantage because of their similarities.
Boise State executed their game plan to perfection against Kentucky by attacking the paint at will, but did not get to the free throw line enough to keep the game close. In facing Iowa State, the Broncos were staring at a mirror. Just like a mirror, the reflection is a better looking version of the self.
Even though Iowa State had the match ups that they wanted defensively, Boise State was able to hang tough with the Cyclones. Iowa State’s best defensive player Dustin Hogue was tardy on four close outs, which resulted in Bronco star Anthony Drmic burying four three-pointers. Ejim would be charged with guarding Bronco guard Derrick Marks. With Iowa State switching screens, Marks was able to attack the basket and score 23 points.
Iowa State shot an atrocious 31 percent in the first half, but only trailed by seven points. The Cyclones would rally in the second half and defeat the Broncos 70-66. The key to the Cyclones getting their best start in school history by notching their 11th win was Kane. Kane had a season best four made three-pointers, nearly matching his season total of five.
With Kane provided a team-high 23 points, it kept Iowa State in the game long enough for Ejim and Hogue to arouse from their slumber. Iowa State only had four offensive rebounds in the second half. Three of those rebounds came off Cyclone missed free throws. The 13th and final offensive rebound was scooped up by Hogue in the waning seconds of regulation. Hogue would trot to the free throw line and effectively put another game on ice.
Iowa State shot 11 percent under their field goal percentage on the season, but still managed to win. The win represents a big moment in Cyclone history, as Iowa State has never gotten off to this hot of a start in a season. It also represents the first and only regular season tournament championship for the Big 12.
The victory should be a bittersweet one for Cyclone Nation. Iowa State had a season low seven assists. The Cyclones must play to their 19 assist per game average if they want to be perennial favorites to win their conference. Lack of ball movement is the Achilles heel to any good shooting team, and Iowa State is no exception to this logic.
Jack Dooley is a Big 12 Basketball writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JackDooleyOCS.