In almost every game this season, the Ames High boys’ basketball team has exhibited the right level of energy. Despite being short-handed and somewhat inexperienced, the Little Cyclones have found ways to play hard in any situation.
Through 3.5 quarters against Urbandale on Tuesday night, Ames was just a step slow. There was effort on display, but the spark that was needed couldn’t be ignited. What finally pushed the Little Cyclones over the edge and lit the fire was a hustle play from Akol Atack, a junior reserve.
“He kind of woke us up,” Ames coach Vance Downs said.” He dove for the ball, got a loose ball opportunity and showed great energy and toughness. I think the guys rallied around that a little bit.”
A 47-44 win against Urbandale originated from that hustle play in the second half, but it was carried across the finish line by the play of dynamic junior Keyshaun Brooks. The quick-twitch guard led Ames (5-5) with 20 points, 12 of which came in the final 6 minutes, 19 seconds.
Cooper Downs, a senior point guard, added 8 points while Corey Phillips and Jonah Strawhacker chipped in 6 and 5, respectively. The win gave Ames a sweep of the J-Hawks (5-5) and was its first win of the 2020 calendar. That kind of confidence boost is invaluable.
“It feels good because we were negative in our record,” Brooks said. “It just feels good as a team to get that W. We’re striving for a W.
“Our chemistry is building as we go. We’re a young team so we just have to build chemistry to work with each other.”
Ames, a team that is eager to get on the court and improve, has been dealt a number of setbacks these last two weeks. A three-game skid, plus a postponed road trip to Johnston, could all be seen as deterrents for the young core of the team. Downs hasn’t seen it that way.
Amid a long layoff around holiday break, and an unexpected week off of games last week due to weather, Ames has navigated its path with a sense of purpose. It’s to be expected, however, that all the time off would leave the Little Cyclones unpolished at times against Urbandale.
“Fortunately we pulled it out. I think we got a little lucky there,” Downs said. “The kids tried. We just weren’t in the right mindset to compete at our best ability when the game started. I don’t think we ever really got there until the fourth quarter.”
Alex McConkey hit a short-range shot with just two seconds left in the third quarter to give Urbandale a six-point lead heading into the fourth. That’s when Brooks took over. Ames was methodical in its execution of offense, but Brooks is a change-of-speed guy that can get to the rim and finish creatively.
Brooks canned a 3 to give the Little Cyclones a lead with two minutes to go, and finished a layup on a fastbreak feed to put them up four. An and-one opportunity gave Ames its largest lead at 44-39 with 1 minute, 42 seconds left. Then the Little Cyclones got help from a senior.
Strawhacker, who has been battling injuries this season, went 3 of 4 at the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to help keep Urbandale at bay. Drew Dykstra missed a 3 at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“I just focused on blocking out, going in and getting as high as you can to grab a rebound,” Strawhacker said of his defensive efforts. “Just make the free throws we make in practice every day. It doesn’t matter what the situation is.”