Rasir Bolton was doing all the shot creating for Iowa State, but with the Cyclones down double digits and the game slipping away against West Virginia on Tuesday, Iowa State Head Coach Steve Prohm turned to backup options.
While the Cyclones didn't win, the decision worked.
Iowa State lost 76-72 to No. 17 West Virginia, despite a comeback that was led by solid guard play with the team's main point guard on the bench.
Bolton put up solid all-around numbers, giving the Cyclones solid point guard play through 31 minutes where he scored 15 points on 7-15 from the field, dished out seven assists and grabbed six rebounds, including a couple key boards down the stretch.
The junior guard added a couple steals, but when he had to sit in the first half due to foul trouble, Iowa State had no clear point guard option and suffered.
The Mountaineers went on a 19-2 run after being down 24-17, and Iowa State went into the half down 11 points despite a solid start.
Bolton was taken out with 10:29 left on the clock in the second half, but the Cyclones switched things up, going with freshman Jaden Walker at point guard — a position he said is his natural position and one he plays in practice.
"The second half, we tinkered with, we moved some things, Jaden went to the point there, they went a little bit off zone, which I think that helped we were able to spread them out," Prohm said. "… The guys' ball movement the second time that group was in was so much better."
Buoyed by solid ball movement across the board, a behind-the-back pass from sophomore Tre Jackson — who was making his return from being out for health and safety protocols — and junior Tyler Harris' three 3-pointers in that stretch, Walker turned in a solid six minutes where he was active on defense, moving the ball on offense and scoring efficiently.
𝗦𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝘁......𝗧𝗿𝗲(𝘆) 𝗕𝗮𝗹𝗹ISU 4-for-7 behind the arc to start. pic.twitter.com/pAanYl9Iho— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) February 3, 2021
Bolton returned with 4:39 left in the game and was instrumental with another returning player, redshirt senior forward Solomon Young, as Iowa State cut the lead to just one point.
A broken possession and a questionable no-call on a collision with the Cyclones down two and only 15 seconds left gave the Mountaineers the ball and free throws. Mountaineer Taz Sherman iced the game by sinking both.
The Cyclones only got there thanks to Jackson, Harris and Walker, the latter of which finished with six points, rebounds and assists along with a steal and block. Walker also had six turnovers on the day.
"When [Rasir] was out of the game I thought that group played really really well and that was a great improvement from first half to second half," Prohm said.
In that 5:50 stretch without Bolton, Walker went 2-2 with four points, two assists, a rebound, a block and a turnover.
Jackson nailed a jumper and had two assists, one of which was off of a missed shot by himself where he grabbed the offensive board and whipped the ball behind his back to the red-hot Harris.
"I was getting to the open spots," Harris said. "… [Jaden] and Tre, everybody was making the effort to be unselfish and they were finding me in the open spots, so I gotta give it all to my teammates."
This is the second game where Iowa State has given West Virginia a run for its money, and this time, it got within just four points with a freshman point guard and two off-ball shooters leading the charge in the waning minutes.
For Walker, this was one of his best games since coming to Iowa State, and he was able to play both off-ball and as the leading guard, playing well in both areas.
But it was the point guard spot where Walker excelled.
"It felt good. I know [Prohm's] been trying to figure out who else can run the one behind [Rasir]," Walker said. "And [Rasir] be playing a lot of minutes, so I was able to step up to the challenge and help produce for the team."