Three Big Takeaways: Grill catches fire, Cyclones survive first road test

Aljaz Kunc gets close and defends an Arkansas Pine-Bluff player as they try to put the ball in play Dec. 1 in Hilton Coliseum.

James Powell

The score after 12 minutes of game action was 9-8.

If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about Iowa State’s victory over Creighton, the 35 total turnovers should be a key indicator.

Their latest triumph was filled with turnovers and lacking offense on both ends. The Cyclones traveled to Omaha, Neb., and took down T.J. Otzelberger’s old friend, Greg McDermott.

The game featured a hot shooting night from Caleb Grill, another stifling performance on defense and just enough clutch baskets at the end to give the Cyclones their eighth straight win.

It’s rarely been pretty for T.J. Otzelberger and his team, but they find themselves at 8-0 and ranked No. 19 in the country ahead of the biggest Cy-Hawk game in years.

‘The Grill’ was fired up

Let’s withhold any more ‘grill’ puns, but they were well-earned after the UNLV transfer’s performance against Creighton.

Caleb Grill has been coming off the bench this entire season, but each time he enters the game, he provides a solid offensive effort and shoots the ball from deep. His performance does well enough to keep him in for extended periods of time.

Against the Bluejays, however, he took it to another level.

It started with two threes to end the half, one of which came with just a couple of ticks left on the game clock, which tied the game at 23 going into the locker room.

Then, it was two more threes from deep to start the game 4-4, which gave the Cyclones their first semblance of breathing room. He added a lay-up in transition and two free throws near the end. Grill was off the bench with a total of 16 points.

He’s been the Cyclones’ most consistent three-point shooter so far this season, making about 47 percent of his attempts from long range. He provided an excellent spark for Iowa State on both ends and was a big factor in the Cyclones being able to sneak out of Omaha with a win.

Defense continues to shine

Another big reason Iowa State defeated the Bluejays was its continued excellence on the defensive end.

The Cyclones held the Bluejays to 44 percent shooting overall, 32 percent from three-point range and forced 21 turnovers, most of them coming in the first half.

Their constant ball pressure made their opponent look lost in the first half and once again allowed their own offense to catch up.

The Cyclones have a mantra featured in almost every game, and it’s one they take pride in. They allow 60.1 points per game and are top-10 nationally in forcing turnovers, at 19.38 per game.

Otzelberger’s pride and joy is making opponents uncomfortable on offense, and it’s a specialty that has worked wonders this season.

Surviving on the road

Surviving is arguably the most adequate description of how the Cyclones played against Creighton. 

It was a slow, clunky game from the start all the way until the end.

Just as it looked like the Cyclones were going to close the game out and were up by five with 37 seconds remaining, they were forced to call two straight timeouts on an inbounds play. Then they proceeded to turn it over.

Ryan Nembhard missed a three-pointer with 27 seconds to go that would’ve pulled his team within two. The Bluejays were forced to foul Tyrese Hunter, who made one of his two free throws raising their score to six, which would be the final margin.

Iowa State had yet to play a true road game this season and also had yet to play that close of a game. It was their slimmest margin of victory all season, and it forced them to show what they were made of in the closing minutes.

It wasn’t perfect, especially near the end, but none of Iowa State’s games have been this season.

One thing that is perfect about the Cyclones’ start, however, is their record.