No 'Shell' Game: ISU's Clyburn Key Against Oklahoma
By Rob Gray, Reporter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State’s versatile Will Clyburn absorbed the criticism, then calmly set upon neutralizing it.
Sharp words were spoken during a team meeting prompted by the Cyclones’ worst loss of the season — an 86-69 setback March 2 at Oklahoma.
And they hit hard, but hit home, as well.
“A couple of the (other) seniors called me out in that meeting and let me know I need to come every game, no matter if I’m doing good, bad, I have to bring my energy and try to do something to help the team instead of going into my shell,” Clyburn said.
Consider it cracked.
Clyburn enters Thursday’s 11:30 a.m. ESPN2-televised Big 12 Championship quarterfinal rematch with the Sooners engaged, upbeat and dangerous as ever.
He’s averaged 23.5 points since the drubbing in Norman and may be the biggest factor in whether ISU goes one-and-done in Kansas City for the eighth straight time, or forges an NCAA Tournament resume-enhancing run on the neutral Sprint Center floor.
“You’ve got to go out and put him in the right spots on the floor where he can attack,” said Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team pounded Oklahoma 83-64 Feb. 4 in Ames. “We’ve had the luxury of having some pretty versatile players here in the (last) two years, the most being Royce (White). But the one thing Royce couldn’t do was shoot. And Will, with his ability to get by guys, his ability to attack — he’s very slithery on the inside and he can make shots. So, yeah, he’s a unique talent.”
Clyburn’s roommate, Korie Lucious, did some of the calling out at that closed-door meeting.
“I think it’s my place,” said Lucious, who’s called himself out a couple times, as well. “Whether it’s Will or anybody else. I think everybody needs to be able to hear the thoughts and take constructive criticism from their teammates. It was good.”
The fifth-seeded Cyclones (21-10) weren’t very good in the most recent meeting with the fourth-seeded Sooners (20-10).
“They really took us apart,” ISU forward Melvin Ejim said.
Role player Sam Grooms did plenty of the deconstruction, totaling 19 points — his second best effort of the season.
“(He) was the difference maker,” Hoiberg said. “We were going to make him beat us and he did it.”
Oklahoma stars Romero Osby and Steven Pledger were solid, too, combining for 36 points and 12 of their teams’ astounding 34 made free throws in as many attempts.
Clyburn, the Cyclones’ driving force at the line, shot just six free throws that game.
He’s made 16 of 26 in the past two wins.
“He has to score,” said ISU defensive ace Chris Babb. “I think that’s when we’re at our best.”
The Cyclones are 6-1 in conference games when Clyburn scores 17 or more points.
They’re 3-3 when he manages 12 points or less.
He had a conference season low-tying six in the loss at Oklahoma.
“If we don’t play together, we’re not very good,” Clyburn said. “And if we play together, we’re a great team. That’s one thing we learned from that beatdown we took.”
The lessons continued — for Clyburn and others, as voices were heard and frustrations were vented shortly thereafter.
“Guys laughed, cried, yelled,” Babb said. “It was just a very man-to-man, brother, family meeting. We just allowed everybody to get everything off their chests.”
And with it, Clyburn leaped out of his shell.
It’s March, after all.
“When Will has that mindset that he can take over a game, that’s certainly when he’s at his best,” Hoiberg said.
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