Iowa St.-Oklahoma St. Preview
(AP) - There were times this season when senior forward Jameel McKay looked like Iowa State's best player.
Now there are times when McKay seems like a liability for the 13th-ranked Cyclones. And it's only gotten worse.
McKay has been playing through tendinitis in his left knee for weeks, and it's hardly a coincidence that he has been struggling. McKay is averaging 12.4 points, but he's failed to score more than nine in each of the past six games.
McKay and the Cyclones (16-6, 5-4 Big 12), losers of two straight, play Saturday at Oklahoma State (11-11, 2-7) in hopes of staying close with the leaders of the conference.
''We need Jameel to be at the top of his game for us to max out,'' coach Steve Prohm said.
McKay hasn't been at his best for a few weeks, and he won't get a chance to bounce back after being suspended indefinitely Saturday for a violation of team rules. He did not make the trip to Stillwater for this game, further stretching Prohm's team thin.
Abdel Nader, who averages 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, likely will fill McKay's spot in the middle, and swingman Deonte Burton could be tipped for his first start after averaging 8.6 points in 13 games since becoming eligible.
McKay first noticed his knee was bothering him early in the Big 12 season. Doctors found nothing structurally wrong, but McKay has felt enough pain that he's resorted to wearing a brace during practice.
McKay's rebounding numbers have fluctuated of late. He grabbed 13 and 10 in wins over No. 1 Oklahoma and TCU, but McKay had four in Tuesday's 81-76 home loss to 14th-ranked West Virginia. The Cyclones were outrebounded 43-26, a margin that would have been smaller with a healthy McKay on the court.
McKay's recent lack of explosiveness has led to him either landing back on the floor for a layup or missing the entry pass altogether.
''I don't feel like I'm getting as high as I would normally,'' McKay said. ''With what's going on with me, you've just got to kind of block it out and remember that it'll get better. ... It's not 100 percent. But it's getting better.''
The suspension comes at the worst of times, as the Cyclones are fighting to keep pace in the Big 12.
Iowa State won four straight league games to jump back into the race before losing to then-No. 5 Texas A&M on the road and to West Virginia. The Cyclones have occasionally lost focus and been quiet on the boards.
Few have written off Iowa State, given that it's already beaten Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas. But the Cyclones know they can't lean on McKay's struggles as an excuse with so much of the season left to play.
''For us guys not to help him out ... if we said that, that's just an easy cop-out. Nothing is easy here,'' said senior forward Georges Niang, who leads the Cyclones with 19.1 points per game.
Niang scored 20 and Nader added 19 against the Mountaineers, but second-leading scorer Monte Morris struggled again. The junior guard, averaging 14.8 points, has totaled 17, shot 29.2 percent overall and gone 1 for 9 from 3-point range in the back-to-back losses.
''We've got a great team, a great coaching staff. We've just got to finish,'' Morris said. ''We've finished before. I don't think it's the end of the world. We have a lot of games left. We'll just keep working and try to get better every day.''
Iowa State hasn't lost three in a row since January 2014, and the Cyclones catch a break Saturday with Oklahoma State, just the second unranked team they will face in a six-game stretch.
The Cowboys have dropped the last five meetings and enter this one with three losses in four games. They allowed a tying 3-pointer with 33.5 seconds remaining in regulation Wednesday at Texas Tech, which eventually won 63-61 on a layup with one second left in overtime.
Oklahoma State led by eight at halftime and never trailed in the second half, but it was unable to pull out the victory due to sloppy play and poor outside shooting.
''When you turn it over (a season-high) 21 times and shoot 4 of 17 from 3,'' coach Travis Ford said, mumbling through the last portion of his remark.