With 10:46 left in the first half of Iowa State’s 81-59 win over North Dakota State on Monday night, a familiar face checked in to large applause from the Hilton Coliseum crowd.
Less than a minute later, he had two blocks and an assist to whip the crowd into a frenzy (and almost got a technical in the process).
Cam Lard was back.
Then, with 5:17 left in the opening 20 minutes, senior forward Zoran Talley Jr. checked in for the first time this season, wearing a black face mask to protect a broken nose.
Iowa State turned in a strong overall performance against the Bison, putting an overmatched team out of harm’s way by the end of the first half and, save for a very sloppy last 12 minutes, playing free-flowing basketball.
Lard played only 10 minutes, finishing with two points, two blocks and one assist. As for Talley, he saw 16 minutes and finished the night with four points, two assists and a steal.
Talley Jr. checks in with a LeBron-esque black mask, which he specifically said he wasn't going to do before the season. Smh— Aaron Marner (@A_Mar32) December 4, 2018
Lard and Talley’s returns from month-long suspensions come just three days before the Cyclones head to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes on Thursday.
A lot has changed since last season, and the two players’ roles might be different this time around — with Lard coming off the bench to get into game shape and Talley’s role uncertain with competition at the three and four spots — but depth is something the Cyclones haven’t had much of in recent years.
Senior guard Marial Shayok — who led the Cyclones with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting — said the two brought “good energy.”
“We’re glad to have them back,” Shayok said. “They responded well and played well for us today.”
Now comes the hard part for coach Steve Prohm and his staff: once Lindell Wigginton and Solomon Young come back from their injuries (Prohm said it’s possible both could suit up for the Drake game Dec. 15, but said he would be “shocked” if either played against Iowa), how do the minutes get divided up among the Cyclones’ 12 scholarship guys? Who draws the short end of the stick?
Prohm said that he won’t tinker too much with lineups for now.
“I feel good about the way we’re playing, our style of play,” Prohm said. “I wasn’t planning on a lot of big changes.”
He did, however, use the game against the Bison to mix and match lineups once the Cyclones jumped out ot a large lead early in the first half. One notable lineup seen in the second half put big men Lard and Michael Jacobson (15 points, 10 boards) on the court at the same time alongside Talley, Shayok and Haliburton.
The Cyclones — whether they’ve wanted to or not — have gone small for the bulk of the year, with four guards surrounding either Jacobson or freshman George Conditt. Working in Jacobson and Lard together could be a change-of-pace option for Iowa State as the season progresses, particularly against tough Big 12 opposition.
Lard thinks the two can complement each other on the floor, mentioning Jacobson’s ability as a faceup four.
“I think it’s gonna be real good for me and [Michael] to get comfortable playing with each other,” Lard said.
“Go out there, get a Big Ten win, come back home (and) make it a Cyclones state."Zoran Talley just now. I bet no one blows that throwaway line out of proportion.— LukeMeredith (@LukeMeredithAP) December 4, 2018
Prohm and the Cyclones now have flexibility on who to play and how to play, and how long it takes for Lard to work his way into a potential starting role will be something to keep a close eye on as Big 12 play approaches.
The Cyclones don’t seem too worried about that just yet, though. Talley was already looking ahead to Thursday night:
“Go out there and get a Big Ten win,” Talley said. “Come back home [and] make it a Cyclone state.”