AMES — It only took three days for the Iowa State men’s basketball team to feel like it hit rock bottom. After losing by 18 at Hilton Coliseum to Milwaukee, a team expected to struggle in the Summit League, the Cyclones looked lost.

Steve Prohm, though, had a vision for how his team needed to navigate the darkness and find a ladder out of the hole they’d dug. They needed to be tough, he said. They needed to be nasty, he proclaimed. They needed a chip on their shoulder, he demanded.

Less than a month later and after a gutty 84-78 win over rival Iowa on Thursday, it appears the Cyclones are headed squarely in that direction.

“We’re growing up,” Prohm said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We don’t have our identity yet, but we’re starting to make steps.”

The Cyclones’ success of the past six NCAA tournament season hasn’t really been built on their grit. It’s been a resilient program, no doubt. There are the huge comebacks to prove it. But those wins were powered by a high-octane offense that could land a knockout punch that would leave opponents wondering what happened before they hit the canvas.

This team won an ugly game in a high-stakes environment in a way that can’t be anything other than extremely encouraging for a young and inexperienced group.

“We performed,” junior Nick Weiler-Babb said after he became the first Cyclone to register double-digit assists in four-straight games, compiling 10 helpers, 15 points, six rebounds and four steals against the Hawkeyes.

In some ways, it is as simple as performing. The Cyclones, with freshman Lindell Wigginton emerging as their star, are relying on players who have, largely until now, not proven they can get it done with the pressure is packed and the stakes are high. No one can question Donovan Jackson’s clutch-time resume, but the rest of the group is an unknown.

They’re starting to prove it in a serious way.

The Cyclones went into halftime down five, but took the lead midway through the second half. When Iowa pulled to within three, the Cyclones responded with a triple from Jackson, a steal from Hans Brase and a 3 from Wigginton, all in the course of 23 seconds. It was a flurry of activity that Naz Mitrou-Long, seated as a spectator at half court, could recognize as vintage Cyclone.

Those types of sequences, though, aren’t why ISU won.

It was getting stops late. It was getting to the free-throw line. It was mixing it up with Iowa’s sizeable frontline.

The Cyclones were tough. They were gritty. They were nasty. The chip was quite visible on their shoulder.

“What I learned is what we’re capable of when we do the right things that we can surprise some people,” Prohm said. “I learned when things are tough, they can respond. I learned that we’ve got good character.

“If you’ve got character, ability and toughness, then you can do special things.”

Even after six-straight wins, it’s hard to re-calibrate expectations for this Cyclones team. This win against Iowa is probably the best on their resume, and the Hawkeyes are a mess right now, having lost six of their last seven. That’s not ISU’s problem, though. Since the Milwaukee debacle, the Cyclones have taken all comers.

The holes and inconsistencies are still there, but the Cyclones just keeping fighting with little care for anything other than the moment they’re in.

It’s a team that doesn’t seem to care about its warts. That’s important for a team trying to play with an edge, with nastiness.

Pretty doesn’t put points on the scoreboard, but ugly wins count the same in the standings.