Iowa State men's basketball opened conference play on the road in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday night against the 9-3 TCU Horned Frogs, less than a week removed from one of the worst losses in program history to Florida A&M Tuesday in Hilton Coliseum.
The Cyclones brought plenty of fight to Fort Worth, sending the Horned Frogs to overtime on their home floor.
In the end, Iowa State would fall 81-79 in a back-and-forth battle which saw two great performances from fellow sophomores Tyrese Haliburton and TCU's RJ Nembhard.
With Kansas coming to town Wednesday night for the Cyclone's conference homer opener, there were some positives to examine in Iowa State's loss to the Horned Frogs that give the Cyclones something to depend on before the class of Big 12 arrives.
Conditt's scoring ability
George Conditt's primary role for the Cyclones throughout non-conference play was his natural ability to block shots, but now as Big 12 play has arrived, the sophomore shot-blocker showed he might have to become a viable scoring threat for the Cyclones to be competitive.
Conditt played the third-most minutes of any Cyclone against TCU with his 31 minutes on the floor, only three minutes less than fellow big-men Michael Jacobson and Solomon Young's combined total of 34 minutes.
Conditt scored an efficient 19 points on 6-12 shooting, along with six rebounds and one block for good measure.
His head coach Steve Prohm has made comments all season that he sees Conditt as "an energy guy off the bench" who has the ability to be Iowa State's biggest rim protector and rim-runner, but after his 19 point output against TCU, the Chicago native could very well have a larger role in how the Cyclones score.
With inconsistent scoring from Rasir Bolton, Jacobson and Young in non-conference play, Conditt started off conference play showing his ability to possibly be Iowa State's second scoring option behind Haliburton.
Against TCU, his scoring efficiency and usage allowed him to set new highs on the season in a wide range of stats.
Conditt set multiple season highs against TCU with his 19 points, 31 minutes, his 12 field goal attempts and six makes, seven free throws and 11 free throw attempts.
Iowa State's offense has been mostly Haliburton shouldering most of the scoring and playmaking, with the rest of his teammates switching scoring roles almost every game. With that being said, this makes Conditt's solid night against TCU a possible sign of what might be ahead as Big 12 play continues.
Haliburton doesn't lose a step after injury
After a late scratch from the lineup Tuesday against Florida A&M with a wrist forced Haliburton to miss the upset win by the Rattlers in Hilton Coliseum, the sophomore guard retuned to action in Fort Worth with no sign of rust
Haliburton put up a 22 point, 12 rebound and 10 assist triple double in his first game back from injury — the sixth triple double in program history and the first since Monte Morris had 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in the 2016 season.
The Oshkosh, Wisconsin, native played all 45 minutes in his return and collected his third straight 20-point performance.
Haliburton has been Iowa State's most consistent scoring option all season with his 17 points per game and 7.9 assist average leading the Cyclones.
Expect Haliburton to continue his efficient scoring and ability to pass the ball to his teammates throughout conference play. He'll need to if Iowa State continues to struggle as a team shooting the ball.
Tough but promising January schedule
Looking ahead to the first month of conference play, it looks like January might not treat Iowa State too kindly thanks to five top-25 matchups on the schedule.
The first of many ranked opponents kicks off with the Cyclone's conference home opener against No. 4 Kansas Wednesday night.
The Jayhawks were at one time ranked No. 1 in the country on Dec 16 but they were taken down by Villanova 56-55 five days later.
After Kansas comes to Ames, Oklahoma is up next.
While the Sooners are not ranked, they do hold a 10-3 record and took down Kansas State to open its conference schedule.
After the Sooners, Iowa State will have the first of its two matchups with No. 6 Baylor on the road in Waco, Texas.
No. 22 Texas Tech comes next on the schedule, a year removed from making the National Championship against Virginia.
While the Red Raiders may not have the Final Four roster they held last season, they have beaten current No. 7 Louisville and Oklahoma State already to hold a 10-3 record.
Iowa State will also travel to No. 8 Auburn for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Auburn also made the Final Four a year ago along with the Red Raiders.
Prohm said ahead of the Battle 4 Atlantis that consecutive battles against ranked teams offer more opportunities than panic for the Cyclones, so with ranked opponents coming almost every night, the Cyclones will have to take advantage.
With a nice win under their belts already against, at the time, No. 15 Seton Hall, the Cyclones will have another chance to add more quality wins to its postseason resume as March is fast approaching.
January could be the make-or-break month of Iowa State's season and the tough stretch begins Wednesday night against the Jayhawks.