That’s the message Cameron Lard delivered to Nick Weiler-Babb at halftime Friday night. Iowa State is a better team when Weiler-Babb is driving hard to the basket, either finishing for easy layups or sucking in defenders to open up outside shooters.
Weiler-Babb received the message and ended up with his best offensive night in more than a month in Iowa State’s 63-59 victory over Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament semifinals on Friday night. Iowa State will face Kansas for the conference crown tonight.
Much credit for the Cyclones’ late-season surge should go to Weiler-Babb, the Arlington Martin product who is the Cyclones’ unsung hero.
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“This team, we all evolve around him,” said Lard, a sophomore forward. “We need him on this team just as much as anybody else. He’s a very important piece.”
Most of Iowa State’s storylines center on Marial Shayok, the Virginia transfer who leads the team with 18.6 points a game and made clutch 3-pointers during a 21-point night against K-State.
Or Michael Jacobson, the small-town Iowa kid who pulled down 16 rebounds against K-State.
But Weiler-Babb should not be overlooked, the man who leads the team in assists (4.0) and is a steady defensive presence. He may not light up the box score, but his impact is appreciated by his teammates.
“He’s our glue guy,” freshman guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “He keeps everything rolling, keeps us all together. Right now, it doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, but anyone watching the game knows how important Nick Babb is to this basketball team.”
Weiler-Babb, who averaged 16 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.0 assists his senior season at Arlington Martin in 2013-14, started his college career at Arkansas before transferring to Iowa State.
He was a role player in his first eligible season with the Cylcones, coming off the bench of the 2016-17 team that won the Big 12 tournament. That team featured star players such as Georges Niang, Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long.
Now Weiler-Babb finds himself in a veteran role and helping Iowa State hit its stride going into the NCAA Tournament. The Cylcones lost three straight going into the Big 12 tournament, but are seemingly peaking at the right time.
They opened the conference tournament with a dominant 83-66 victory over Baylor, and followed that with a solid win over K-State.
Weiler-Babb feels Iowa State is showing the country it’s a “tough team” with March Madness upon us.
“Everybody has been kind of talking how soft we were this year and how we let things pass,” Weiler-Babb said. “We came back with resiliency. We fought and we just never lost hope in ourselves. We just kept fighting and playing for the guy next to us.”
Weiler-Babb was an example of it himself Friday after the pep talk from Lard.
Weiler-Babb had a sequence midway through the second half in which he turned the ball over and responded by hustling to the other end of the floor and blocking a layup attempt by K-State’s Xavier Sneed.
A couple minutes later, Weiler-Babb drove hard to the rim and flushed it in to tie the game at 45-45 with 10:14 left.
Nobody was more happy with Weiler-Babb’s strong finish than Lard.
“He listened!” Lard said, smiling. “He just needs to be aggressive cause those easy two points would be better than us taking a 3-pointer and missing it and them scoring in transition. I just try to put it in his head and tell him to be aggressive more often. That’s what happened tonight.”
Weiler-Babb finished with 12 points, his most since he scored 15 against TCU on Feb. 9. He also had six rebounds and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the second half.
“Our offense is really the best when I’m trying to be aggressive, trying to get to the rim,” Weiler-Babb said. “That’s the best part of my game. Driving, kicking, getting other guys involved by being aggressive.”
All thanks to Lard for reminding him, Iowa State has a chance to cut down the nets as the Big 12 champion tonight.
“Cam pulled me to the side on the bench and he’s like, ‘Man, you’ve got to be aggressive,’” Weiler-Babb said. “You’ve got to start pushing yourself to be more aggressive in getting to the rim and it opens up a lot more things.
“He’s the main guy who kind of put it in my ear. Once I got more aggressive, a lot of things opened up.”