Defense and another strong second quarter sparks No. 20 Cyclones’ thumping of TCU


Iowa State senior guard Bridget Carleton drives under the basket against Drake on Sunday. Iowa State defeated Drake, 86-81.

Noah Rohlfing

Iowa State fans in Hilton Coliseum were restless early in Wednesday night’s game against TCU. The No. 20 Cyclones were harried and flustered by an aggressive TCU press and looked nothing like the team that beat Kansas State 96-58 on Jan. 2. But once the second quarter came around, the Cyclones did what they’ve done ever since the loss to Iowa: find a groove and pull away.

This time — especially in the first half — the Cyclones didn’t overwhelm an opponent offensively. It was the Cyclones’ defense doing the dirty work and keeping TCU on the mat.

After struggling with TCU’s full-court pressure throughout the first quarter and taking a 14-10 lead into the second quarter, Iowa State went up a gear and left the Horned Frogs in the dust in the second half, winning by a final score of 92-54.

“I don’t know if it just takes us a little bit to get used to the game, but we’re working on really putting four quarters together,” said senior guard Alexa Middleton. “Our first quarter needs to be like our second quarter.”

Despite another slow start, by the end of the first 20 minutes, the Cyclones had full control of the game and of the stat sheet.

Iowa State doubled the Horned Frogs on the boards, picking up 32 in the first half to 16 for TCU. By the end of the game, Iowa State’s rebounding margin was plus-33, the team’s best mark since Dec. 21, 2016 against Sacred Heart. 

In the second half, the Cyclones turned the screw and began to find open looks as the Horned Frogs’ defense faltered.

Senior guard Bridget Carleton led the Cyclones with 24 points, but she was closely followed by freshman Ashley Joens, who hit five 3-pointers and tied a career-high total with 22 points on the night.

Joens said she’s been growing in confidence since a difficult loss to Iowa.

“I’m definitely more comfortable just [to] go out and play,” Joens said. “Don’t really think about anything else that’s going on, just go play.”

Iowa State’s offense, despite committing 18 turnovers, shot 47.8 percent from the floor and 9-for-25 from 3-point range while shooting 19-for-21 from the free throw line. TCU’s 19 turnovers became 22 Iowa State points, and the Cyclones’ ability to clean the boards led to 15 second-chance points. 

Fennelly was happy with the Cyclones’ efficiency, and said it was part of the reason the team is much improved from last season’s 14-17 squad. 

“This is a really special group of kids,” Fennelly said. “When we’re making shots, and we’re defending the way we’re capable [of], we can compete.”

About those 19 forced turnovers. 

Fennelly’s defenses aren’t generally known for a high turnover rate, but in the first two home games of conference play the team has forced a combined 39 turnovers, and the Cyclones held TCU’s leading scorer Jordan Moore to eight points on 2-3 shooting. 

Fennelly said he “felt bad” that the Cyclones’ defense wasn’t getting more attention.

“We don’t get credit for being a great defensive team because we’re not up in your grill,” Fennelly said. “But we are very stubborn.”

Just 15 games into the season, Iowa State is one win away from tying last season’s total. With a huge test from No. 11 Texas coming up on Saturday afternoon, the Cyclones will have another chance to prove they’re in the Big 12’s upper echelon this season. 

While there’s obviously a long way to go, they’ve certainly made a strong case the past two weeks.