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Ames boys basketball defies odds in 2022-2023, falls just short of Iowa state title defense

Ames looked headed for a down season in boys basketball heading into the 2022-2023 campaign.

The Little Cyclones lost four starters, including current Iowa State Cyclone Tamin Lipsey, all-state forward Trevion LaBeaux and all-conference forward Corey Phillips off last year's team that claimed the Class 4A state championship in dominating fashion.

But thanks to the versatility of its lone returning starter, a huge production jump from two top returning reserves and the addition of a key transfer from Texas, Ames ended up tying for the Iowa Alliance North Division championship and returning to the state tournament four the third year in a row.

"I thought the growth, especially after the (holiday) break was significant," said Ames coach Vance Downs. "I think the chemistry really improved with the entire team. It was great to see this group reach the state tournament."

Lucas Lueth avearged 13 points and provided elite defensive play on the wing to help the Ames boys basketball team return to state for the third-consecutive season in 2022-2023.
Lucas Lueth avearged 13 points and provided elite defensive play on the wing to help the Ames boys basketball team return to state for the third-consecutive season in 2022-2023.

Ames finished 17-8 overall. The Little Cyclones went 7-1 in the IAC North, sharing the conference title with Waterloo East.

The season began with Ames routing Fort Dodge (54-30) and Des Moines East (72-42) and then dropping four in a row. The Little Cyclones fell to Ankeny (64-50), Ankeny Centennial (46-34), Des Moines Roosevelt (67-57) and eventual 4A state champion West Des Moines Valley (35-32).

Ames knocked off Waterloo East in a 65-59 showdown at Waterloo on Dec. 20 to snap the losing streak just before Christmas.

After the break, Ames ran its winning streak to eight with victories over Marshalltown (43-38), Ottumwa (62-31), Mason City (65-37), Pleasant Valley (33-31), Des Moines North (53-34), Fort Dodge (58-23), Des Moines Lincoln (49-47) and Cedar Falls (56-46). Pleasant Valley went on to be a 4A state semifinalist and Cedar Falls was a top 10 4A team when Ames defeated the Tigers.

Eventual 4A state qualifier Norwalk ended the Little Cyclones' winning streak by handing them a 53-49 loss on Jan. 28. Ames ended January with a 35-25 win over eventual 3A state qualifier Des Moines Hoover and then they opened February with a 70-66 loss to Waterloo East.

The regular season came to a close with Ames defeating Marshalltown (50-38), Mason City (62-47) and Dowling Catholic (61-56) then losing at Southeast Polk (57-52).

Ames received a bye to start 4A substate play. In the semifinals, the Little Cyclones rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to down Ankeny, 72-51, and they crushed Linn-Mar in the finals at Nevada, 67-49 to punch their ticket to state.

At the state tournament, Ames ran into No. 2 Waukee and five-star Iowa State signee Omaha Biliew. The Little Cyclones couldn't overcome a poor second quarter and Biliew's 24 points in a 58-40 loss to end their dreams of a repeat state championship.

"I thought it was a very resourceful group that played very close to their ceiling," Downs said.

Ames averaged 53.5 points and they ranked second in 4A for the fewest points allowed per game at 45.4. The Little Cyclones hit 136 3-pointers at a 32.8% clip, shot 43.2% overall from the field and 72.9% from the line and averaged 26.7 rebounds and 10 assists against 8.6 turnovers.

Lucas Lueth, Jalen Wynter and Jamison Poe were the three engines that powered Ames most of the season.

Lueth, a 6-foot, 7-inch senior on the wing, was as talented and valuable defensively as any player in the state. He also did a nice job attacking the basket and mixing in some 3-pointers on offense, averaging 12.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.7 assists.

"I thought (Lueth) was a very special player," Downs said. "He's a gifted athlete with a high basketball IQ. He could guard five positions and could play four positions on offense. Just a terrific young man. He will be missed."

Lueth hit 26 3-pointers and shot 48.9% overall from the field.

Wynter and Poe formed a dynamic duo in the backcourt.

Wynter led Ames in scoring at 14.4 points per game and 3-pointers with 58 on 39.5% accuracy. He shot 40.7% overall and 87.3% from the line and averaged 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists.

Poe was Ames' best player driving to the basket. He averaged 9.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals and shot 37.3% from the field and 72% from the line.

"Those two have fun playing together on the basketball floor," Downs said. "Both a multitalented and they play off one another strengths."

Frank Keller came over to Ames from the Houston, Texas area and provided a big lift inside with his athletic 6-6 frame. Keller shot 58.1% from the field and 72.2% from the line and averaged 9.3 points and a team-best 7.7 rebounds.

Will Thomas came on strong at point guard for Ames during the second half of his freshman season to help the Little Cyclones make it back to state.
Will Thomas came on strong at point guard for Ames during the second half of his freshman season to help the Little Cyclones make it back to state.

Freshman Will Thomas emerged as a quality third guard in the starting lineup for Ames. Thomas averaged 3.6 points and 2.7 assists and he shot 75% from the line.

"Frank was huge this year — I believe he had nine double-doubles," Downs said. "Will Thomas made terrific strides after the break. He is only the second player to start at point guard in the tournament as a freshman."

Chol Yak, Nik Courtney and Noah Seibert were the top players off the bench for Ames.

Yak averaged 1.1 points and 2.2 rebounds and Courtney added 1.3 and 1.4, respectively, during their senior seasons in the post. Seibert hit eight 3-pointers and averaged one point per game on the perimeter.

Next season Ames must find a way to replace the size and athleticism of Lueth and Keller inside and on the wing. But with the return of an experienced backcourt, the Little Cyclones should still be formidable in 2023-2024.

"We return three starting guards that are each very talented," Downs said. "A nice group of returning upperclassmen and underclassmen returning as well, that will continue to develop."

This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Ames boys overcome inexperience to make another state run in 2022-2023