N Iowa Iowa St Basketball

Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) shoots over Northern Iowa guard Wyatt Lohaus during the first half of Saturday's game in Des Moines.

AMES – The game right before Christmas is always a difficult one, no matter who the opponent is.

Students are gone, fans are busy planning for the holidays and players want to go home and see their families.

Iowa State men’s basketball (8-2) will try to take care of Maryland Eastern Shore (3-9) at 6 p.m. in Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday.

“You’re not going to go out there and be up 10, 12, 15 [points] – you have to play well and go possession by possession,” coach Steve Prohm said.

Prohm has a message for his team to keep their focus and not look ahead to spending time with their families.

“Where do you want to be in March? That’s our focus right now,” Prohm said. “Our focus needs to be at an all-time high. [On Wednesday], our focus needs to be about competing the right way.”

Senior guard Donovan Jackson recognizes that the players want to go home, but they still have to take this game seriously.

Maryland Eastern Shore isn’t a good team. Its lost its last two games by a combined 104 points.

“We just have to come in and be ready to play because I don’t think there’s going to be anybody here,” Jackson said. “We should still have fun with it.”

The Hawks play with a slow tempo, much like Northern Iowa, Iowa State’s last opponent. The Cyclones believe they’ll be able to use some of what they learned against the Panthers in this game.

Prohm said Maryland Eastern Shore will start its offense later in the shot clock to minimize possessions. The Hawks will move the ball around the perimeter and then get into their offensive actions.

“Just be patient and execute offense, be ready to block out defensively and contest shots,” Jackson said. “If we stay sound, fundamentally, then I think we’ll be good.”

While the game before Christmas is tough, the real challenge is after the game. The players leave on the 21st and come back to Ames on the 26th. That’s five days they have to work out and get in the gym on their own.

And after that, it’s Big 12 play.

“When they get back, it’s on because then we have 19 heavyweight games ahead of us – home and road,” Prohm said. “The fun part is continuing to grow and get better and see how good we can be and see if we can prove some people wrong and find our way into March. That’s what it’s about. I want these seniors to have a great year and I want these young guys to continue to get better. That needs to be our only focus and hopefully we can play well.”

The Big 12 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation again. The conference’s winning percentage is 82 percent, the worst record in the league is Texas at 8-3.

“That’s great because if we can hold serve in league play, and finish non-conference playing the right way, then we’re going to have the opportunity to play in March,” Prohm said. “And that’s what it’s about."

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