CONWAY, S.C. — Nick Weiler-Babb flirted with triple-doubles. Donovan Jackson found his lost shooting touch and played with freedom on the wing. And a once-wobbly Iowa State team has found a new dash of confidence, too.
Turns out, a championship run in South Carolina for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off might have changed everything for the Cyclones.
Jackson scored 26 points and Iowa State blew most of a huge lead before holding off Boise State 75-64 in Sunday’s championship game, a big leap after entering the tournament at 0-2.
“It’s a step,” coach Steve Prohm said. “And that’s what I told them in the locker room that they need to understand.”
Sure, it’s just one early season tournament for a program that has been to six straight NCAA Tournaments. But considering where things stood earlier in the week, it’s a welcome sign of growth for a team with a lot of players in new roles.
The Cyclones (3-2) were coming off a 74-56 home loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday for the program’s first loss in a home opener in 20 years. And they arrived facing their first 0-3 start since the 1990-91 season.
Three wins in four days later, Prohm could crack jokes.
“I’m glad I can go back to Ames right now,” he said.
Nick Weiler-Babb had 10 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists to earn honors as the most valuable player after seeing more work at the point for this tournament, which was held in Conway due to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico.
That freed up Jackson, who set a tournament scoring record with 76 points, including a huge 3-pointer with 1:17 left after the Broncos had cut a 24-point second-half deficit all the way to four.
“I thought it was a fresh new start for us,” Jackson said, “because we did start off 0-2 and I think everybody bought into what Coach Prohm has to say and his philosophy and plays and all that.”
Boise State (4-1) trailed 52-28 with 15:23 left but rallied with a flurry of second-half 3-pointers.
Chris Sengfelder scored 20 points for the Broncos, who played most of the way without all-Mountain West Conference guard Chandler Hutchison. He took a hard fall and hit his head on the court at the 16:19 mark, then left with 12:22 left before halftime.
“We had a choice,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We could be victims and feel sorry for ourselves because we were down a soldier or we could step up and go compete and keep fighting them.”
Boise State: The Broncos showed a ton of fight to get back in this one. Sengfelder hit four of Boise State’s nine second-half 3-pointers, which allowed the Broncos to twice get within four before the Cyclones did just enough to hang on.
Iowa State: Now it’s up to the Cyclones to put that 0-2 start further behind them. The most obvious change was Weiler-Babb’s time at the point, where he led all tournament players in both rebounds and assists.
“The team that I saw on film,” Rice said of the Cyclones’ first two games, “is not the team we saw tonight.”
Jackson had scored just 10 points combined in the first two games. With Weiler-Babb at the point, he had 26 points in Thursday’s win against Appalachian State, 24 more Friday against Tulsa and then closed this one by scoring Iowa State’s last 13 points.
“My confidence wasn’t shot,” Jackson said. “So coming down here, I came in here with more confidence actually to prove myself that I belong here.”
It’s unclear if Hutchison suffered a concussion when his head hit the floor. He stayed in a few minutes afterward — even scoring twice on drives — before checking out for the final time. He watched most of the game from the bench wearing a hoodie and warmup pants.
Rice said the team trainer decided to “pull the plug” on Hutchison as a precaution.
Boise State: The Broncos host Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
Iowa State: The Cyclones host Western Illinois on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap