Iowa State continued its recent strong stretch of play as they held on to knock off No. 9 Baylor 72-69 for a Big 12 home win on Saturday afternoon.
The win gives the Cyclones (19-9, 11-5) seven consecutive wins while they also snapped a five-game losing streak against Baylor that included two straight home losses. Baylor had one last shot to tie on a full-court pass with 1.4 seconds left but King McClure’s three-pointer was off at the buzzer.
Senior Deonte Burton banked home a key late three-pointer and made an important late steal as he led Iowa State with 22 points while senior point guard Monte Morris added 17 points and seven assists for the Cyclones.
Since inserting freshman big man Solomon Young (11 points) into the starting lineup, the Cyclones have looked like a new team as Young’s added toughness has given Iowa State a major boost on the interior. With Iowa State’s front court struggles improving gradually over time — they still have issues on the defensive glass like they did against Baylor — the team’s perimeter has continued to hum along since the Cyclones have so many veterans on the perimeter.
And when Burton is on like he was on Saturday, Iowa State is tough to beat. Guys like Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long can have off-nights if Burton is rolling because he’s the type of player who can go for 30 if he gets hot. When Burton is producing on the offensive end it also boosts his energy on the defensive end as he is typically a player who needs to be motivated a bit to give it his all on that end of the floor.
Being his senior year, hopefully Burton continues to stay motivated and play at a high level during the home stretch. He’s certainly had some great outings this season.
Morris is still one of the nation’s best point guards, Thomas and Mitrou-Long are solid senior shooters and Young is a decent piece who is serviceable inside. But this Iowa State will go as far as Burton is playing well. The Cyclones can hang with anyone when Burton is playing at his best but they can look completely average if he has an off-night.
With Iowa State continuing to pile up wins, they could see their NCAA tournament seeding start to get interesting, especially since they have remaining games against tournament-bound, top-50 RPI teams like Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Sweeping Oklahoma State would be solid for Iowa State while the road game at West Virginia is a game that could decide second place in the Big 12 before the conference tournament.
Baylor (23-6, 10-6) has now lost three of its last four games as their offense has struggled over the last few outings. Junior forward Johnathan Motley continues to be a force on offense as he finished with a team-high 27 points and added 11 rebounds. But Motley still isn’t getting enough help.
Al Freeman (14 points) and Ish Wainwright (14 points) were more assertive on the offensive end on Saturday and this team’s offense should also look a lot better when Manu Lecomte’s ankle heals a bit more.
There are some concerns about Baylor’s ability to take good shots in the half court, but Lecomte not being at full speed was also a huge part of that on Saturday. Baylor better fix things quickly with its offense because they get a game at home against West Virginia on Monday and the Bears are really sliding.
A team that was once in the conversation for a No. 1 seed is now falling very quickly and might finish fourth in the Big 12 after such a strong start.