AMES, Iowa — Like a lot of freshmen thrust into starting jobs, Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker has struggled to be consistent.
Horton-Tucker appears to be finding his rhythm again in a promising sign for a team whose players hope their best games are in front of them.
The 6-4, 238-pound Horton-Tucker broke out of an extended slump with perhaps his best week yet, scoring 16 points in a narrow loss at Kansas and putting up 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists in Saturday’s 87-73 win at Mississippi. The Cyclones (15-5, 4-3), who moved up to 20th in Monday’s poll, host West Virginia on Wednesday.
“He made some tough shots. I thought he was really good,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said of Horton-Tucker’s performance at Ole Miss. “He’s had some ups and downs in different games, and hopefully this gets him a little bit more focused.”
Horton-Tucker, a consensus four-star recruit from Simeon, was one of the biggest recruits the Cyclones have ever landed. Prohm immediately pegged Horton-Tucker as a starter despite a litany options along the wing, and he had 26 points in just his third game, 13 days before his 18th birthday.
Horton-Tucker, a smooth shooter whose frame and athleticism also make him a powerful and creative finisher at the rim, scored 26 against Illinois eight days later. He then had 21 points in a loss at Iowa and scored 15 points with nine rebounds in a win over Drake, prompting speculation that Horton-Tucker might be a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft if he kept it up.
Horton-Tucker went seven straight games without scoring more than eight points, partly a result of star guard Lindell Wigginton’s return from a foot injury and partly because of a shooting funk that culminated when he missed 17 of 24 shots over a three-game stretch.
Rather than blame his woes on a “freshman wall,” Horton-Tucker said he believes he found something in that loss to the Jayhawks.
“Shots just started going in. Against Kansas I made my first few shots, and then I feel like the confidence came back,” Horton-Tucker said.
Iowa State doesn’t necessarily need Horton-Tucker to put up lots of points every night, not with Marial Shayok leading the Big 12 with 19.8 points per game and Wigginton starting to round into form.
But as the games get bigger and the competition gets better, Iowa State is going to need multiple options.
If the Cyclones can get Horton-Tucker to play like he did a week ago in February and March, they might emerge as one of the more dangerous teams in America.
“I think he’s had a good freshman year,” Prohm said. “If you’re going to play two games a week, they’re not all going to be perfect. But do I want to see him continue to grow on the defensive end? Yes. Does he need to continue to improve his shot selection? Yes. Is he a high-level offensive skill player that can do a lot of things? No doubt about it.”