Ames, Iowa – With four seconds left on the shot clock Tre King split two Horned Frog defenders attempting a wild layup that balanced on the top of the glass and into the hoop. This perfectly explains the kind of day Iowa State had. Although it was not the offense that carried the Cyclones to their 14th straight home victory, it was their defense.
“More than anything our guys' communication and connectedness defensively showed up for us,” TJ Otzelberger said. “We knew [TCU] was going to come in well prepared and ready to execute and then with a lot of physical toughness so we are fortunate to make enough plays to come out with a win.”
Iowa State’s (18-5, 7-3) defense withstood great second-half adjustments from the TCU (16-7, 5-5) and protected their home court winning 71-59. This win secures Hilton Coliseum’s undefeated record and earns the Cyclones a tie for first place in the Big 12 with Houston.
Defense gives Cyclones a cushion
Through the first 15 minutes of action, the Iowa State defense made TCU look like a deer in headlights. The guards were passive and the big men in the paint couldn’t move an inch without a Cyclone defender hustling in from the help side causing loose balls. TCU’s offense looked miserable especially when they went on a seven-minute stretch where Iowa State forced four turnovers.
“[Iowa State] outplayed us and was more physical than us,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “Offensively we are at the top but defensively we are not there.”
TCU slowly started changing the first half story with a comeback of their own. Nothing came easy but in a blink of an eye, the Horned Frogs had cut the Cyclone 10-point lead to just four in two minutes. When things looked bleak the offense went back to the basics. What the Cyclones did well in the final minutes of action and continued to do throughout the second half was play inside out. Robert Jones who is typically known for his presence as a defender and rebounder played delivery man dishing out two great assists to Curtis Jones and Tamin Lipsey putting Iowa State up 30-22 at the half. Despite the lead, there was much to be desired heading into the second half.
Unlikely hero gives a boost to the offense in the second half
It just seemed like the numbers did not match the action on the court for Iowa State. Shooting 50% from deep and 45% from the field are great numbers and no one will dispute that. Yet going into the locker room it felt as if the Cyclone offense was not in their element. Coming out of the gates Iowa State changed its look firing off an 8-0 run to welcome TCU back onto the court.
But this is the Big 12 and no lead is safe. While the Cyclone offense continued to look collected and under control, their defense took a beating. After forcing TCU to shoot only 30% from the field in the first half, the Horned returned to their offensive-minded selves early in the second half. What TCU did well early was attacking the elbows and taking what the defense gave them. Both teams traded punches each shooting 6-7 from the field to start. This would soon tilt the Horned Frogs' way with them igniting on a 12-2 run in under three minutes.
“We know basketball is a game of runs and we know that they were going to throw punches,” King said. “But we knew we were going to throw punches too and the biggest thing we talked about was getting the big stops when we needed to…and I think we did a good job playing through those mistakes.”
Responding is key and not only do the players know but so do the fans. Hilton knows when to step up, which makes the coliseum such a hostile place because the fans are truly a sixth man on the floor.
Iowa State’s two strong guards Tamin Lipsey and Keshon Gilbert struggled against the Dixon defense. Gilbert shined on the charity stripe making eight of his nine attempts, but from the field they both could not get into a rhythm. Combining for 20 points on 5-14 shooting the Cyclone offense would need a jumpstart from another guard.
A spark that desperately needed to be lit came from two Curtis Jones threes in 44 seconds. It is an understatement to the amount of growth and impact Jones has shown.
“You just trust your work and it pays off,” Jones said.
Things were not always easy for Jones. Look back to November where the senior transfer shot 3-19 from beyond the arc and appeared inconsistent. Just as he did today and since filling in for the injured Lipsey a few weeks prior, Jones has stepped up when it has mattered most. Finishing with 13 points on 5-9 shooting Jones now has become one of the more consistent scorers notching six straight games with 10+ points.
“I was just trying to make sure I was still doing my job on defense because if you don’t play defense, you won’t play so if I am not making shots I have to be defending at a high level,” Jones said. “Now I feel like I am doing a good job of doing both.”
Coach Otzelberger spoke about the trials this team has faced when closing games out. It was apparent in Tuesday night’s victory over Texas that this team continues to struggle to put teams away. Tonight, even when TCU got within eight late the Cyclones banned together and got the much-needed stops earning them their 18th victory of the season.
Iowa State earned its tie for first in the toughest conference and will be favored in their final four home games. Protecting home court moving forward is vital if the Cyclones want to stay atop the best. The following road stretch against Cincinnati and Houston will be very telling of where this team could go come March.