Royce White has been the engine behind Iowa State’s attack all season. That’s well-established.
But Wednesday night’s 78-72 road loss to No. 8 Missouri raised a legitimate question: Can Iowa State come together and make the shift from being solidly in the NCAA Tournament to being a dark horse that can make some noise in March?
White was the centerpiece once again against Missouri, tallying 20 points, nine assists, and six rebounds. The do-it-all forward was the reason the Cyclones were able to extend the lead to as much as eight with two minutes remaining before halftime.
His ability to create off the dribble and find open teammates on the perimeter was what fueled the first half scoring on Wednesday night.
But here comes the takeaway that could have a lasting impact for the Cyclones:
Missouri learned to adjust. White had just six of his 20 points in the second half and didn’t score for the final 12 minutes of the game.
Over that stretch, without the ball working through White’s hands, Missouri was able to swing a 16-5 run that put the Tigers in the driver’s seat for good.
Iowa State’s offense froze because the facilitator, White, was limited by the concerted defensive effort of Frank Haith’s Tigers. By keeping the ball out of White’s hands or applying the pressure when he did (he had five second-half turnovers), the Cyclone offense suffered.
Will this be opponents’ focus as they move forward into March? It should be.
Iowa State has other good options, namely Chris Allen, though he struggled against Missouri, and Scott Christopherson.
Though much of their effectiveness is a by-product of White’s ability to draw the defense, the Cyclones have to prove that they can still function without major production from the Minnesota native.
They’ve done it before, against Oklahoma, when White took just one shot, and against Texas A&M, when he had five points.
But can they do it against teams that are tournament-bound? If they can’t, it could be a quiet exit from the NCAA Tournament for the Cyclones.
But don’t underestimate the magic in Ames. There is something there that is worth keeping an eye on.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_