Iowa State rallies around guard Matt Thomas through shooting slump

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Hilton Coliseum seemingly erupts with every Iowa State 3-pointer or theatrical dunk. But not all cheers are created equal. When sophomore Matt Thomas connects from long distance, Cyclone fans to seem to celebrate in a unique way.

It’s a mixture of relief and support as they simultaneously hope that shot is the one that puts Thomas on the sharpshooter track and try to push him toward it.

After Thomas hit his first 3-pointer against Oklahoma State on Tuesday, he was given essentially a group hug from his teammates when he made his way back to the bench.

“This whole team, we believe in Matt so much,” junior Naz Long said. “He goes around the horn, he can go 25-straight [without missing]. He’s that good of a shooter. He just knows he has to be aggressive.

“He has a great flow game. He just needs to do what he can do, go to his strengths and he’ll be fine.”

Perhaps the reason for the support is the dissonance between Thomas’ high school reputation and practice reports to his game production. He came to ISU heralded as the best shooter in the class of 2013 and — just like Long’s — there are countless stories about the shooting exhibitions Thomas puts on during practice. But when the shots count, Thomas is a 33.1 percent career 3-point shooter. He’s hitting at a 31.8 percent clip this season.

This whole team, we believe in Matt so much. He goes around the horn, he can go 25-straight [without missing]. He’s that good of a shooter. He just knows he has to be aggressive.
— Naz Long, ISU teammate

Still, Thomas’ teammates continue to regard him as a dead-eye shooter and are doing everything they can to remain in his corner.

“They’re pulling for Matt because they know how much work he puts into it,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “There’s not a guy that I’ve really seen in my program that puts more time and effort into shooting, into everything.

“He puts so much work and effort into it. Every time he shoots the ball, our guys cheer because they think it’s going in, and I’m the same way. Every time he shoots, I think it’s going in. Guys pull for the guys that work like that.”

And the support isn’t just wishful thinking or genuine joy. It’s also part strategy.

“With Matt, that’s most of it, is getting his mind right,” Hoiberg said. “Confidence is the No. 1 thing with a shooter.”

That’s why after a short shooting session with Thomas on Monday, Hoiberg played a bit of a mind game with his pupil.

“We shot 30 shots and he made 29 of them and he was pissed,” Hoiberg said Tuesday.

So Hoiberg took action.

“He was like, ‘Get the hell out of here,’ ” Thomas said with a chuckle. “And I left.”

The goal, Hoiberg said, was for Thomas to “leave while you’re feeling somewhat good about your shot and about yourself.”

Thomas, who scored 10 points and went two of three from deep against Oklahoma State, is trying to learn the lesson Hoiberg keeps hammering home. Confidence is important for a shooter.

“With any shooter, it can be mental at times,” Thomas said. “As much as you can just go out there and let things go, the better off you’re going to be.”

Thomas knows his teammates are trying to instill in him the security that comes with confidence by offering their unwavering support.

“Everyone on this team is rooting for each other,” he said. “We’re all one big family. I feel like that’s why we’re so good, because we generally care so much about each other. Everyone sees each other in here working on their game and you want to see everyone succeed.

“[Teammates] see it in practice a lot. In games, when they do see me succeed, everyone gets real happy.”

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