The Drive with Heather Burnside and Sean Roberts

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Clutch Shot from Momcilovic edges Cyclones over #2 Houston 57-53

Ames, IA – 30 seconds on the clock, tied game against the nation's top defense, and the ball finds its way into the hands of Cyclone freshman Milan Momcilovic. The true freshman stood 15 feet away from the basket and delivered a beautiful fadeaway jumper over two Houston defenders sealing Iowa State’s (12-3, 1-1) 57-53 victory over the No. 2 Houston Cougars (14-1, 1-1). 

“Not to be cocky, but big-time players make big-time shots,” Momcilovic said about his late-game heroics.

Before Milan’s moment, the freshman was face-guarded and physically pushed around but much like the entirety of the Cyclone team he did not falter and instead shined when the Hilton lights were at their brightest. The fadeaway and his late free throws were the only points Milan had in the second half. 

After a successful yet weak non-conference schedule, the Cyclones proved tonight that they are not going anywhere and every Big 12 team new or old should be aware. 

There were flashes of the Izaiah Brockington Cyclone squads where the defensive physicality became the team’s identity. It took over six minutes for the 10th-ranked offense in the nation to nail their first three of the night. Iowa State’s 5th-ranked defense put on a master class in the first 10 minutes of action. The Cyclones led by as much as 14 and racked up those points fairly quickly thanks to their ability to make the Cougars uncomfortable offensively. Houston who only averages 9 per game gave the ball back to the Cyclones 12 times in the first half. 

“We peed down our leg,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said regarding the disappointing offensive effort early on. 

In front of an emotional, but not packed Hilton Coliseum Iowa State pounced on the Cougars making them look like the unranked underdog. Keshon Gilbert got the night started with a baseline jumper but quickly the roar grew in the arena as Tamin Lipsey had yet another acrobatic steal and behind-the-head pass to Gilbert for the fast-break layup. 

“It was important that we came out and set the tone and we talked about throwing the first punch,” TJ Otzelberger said when asked about how the Cyclones pulled off the victory. “I think it was setting the tone, being the aggressor, and then it was a group of guys who are really connected.”

Like the well-coached and top-rank teams do, the Houston Cougars adjusted in the final minutes of the first half forcing the Cyclones outside of their comfort zone. Houston demanded Iowa State to run their offense from the perimeter causing TJ Otzelberger’s squad to go on a near 7-minute scoring drought. Even Emanuel Sharp’s 11 first-half points could not get the Cougars any closer due to the Cyclone's intent to get to the free throw line put Iowa State up 31-21 at the half. 

Houston continued their push to force Iowa State to fire off threes to which neither team was successful. Cougars finished 7-26 and Cyclones just 3-15. The help of controlling the offensive glass hauling in 6 of their 11 offensive boards in the second half. Add in another 2+ minute scoring drought by the Cyclones gave Houston the time it needed to tie the game up at 41 with 10:40 left. 

On paper, both teams struggled to shoot the ball and even though Iowa State forced turnovers in the first 10 minutes, the roles reversed with the Cyclones giving the ball back to the Cougars 6 out of their total 12 times in the final 20. Where the Cyclones separated themselves apart was at the charity stripe. The continued effort to get the ball into the paint was key. 

Iowa State went to 18-22 at the line when Houston could only muster up 12 free throw line attempts (making 8). 

With such aggressive play on both ends of the court, it was clear for either team to come out on top it would fall on which one had the endurance and role players to keep up for 40 minutes. Hason Ward playing in just his third game since the November injury, put together a 9-point on 4-4 shooting performance in 15 minutes of gametime. His two alley-oop finishes were adrenaline-inducing injections to the Hilton faithful. 

“I know the weather was a big obstacle, but to have the crowd we did really gave us that extra energy and extra fight,” Otzelberger said.

For the Cyclones to bounce back after losing to #11 ranked Oklahoma in the fashion they did against a Final Four contender was impressive, but like we have seen for years the Big 12 is never a place where you feel comfortable. Iowa State will take on Oklahoma State in Hilton on Saturday at 5 p.m. 

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