Stifling defense carries Iowa State over Beavers


Gabe Kalscheur plays in a game against Oregon State on Nov. 12, 2021.

Matt Belinson

AMES — Friday night’s win over Oregon State was more than the second win of the T.J. Otzelberger era. 

Yes, it matches last season’s win total with the season being just two games old. And yes, it’s the Cyclones’ first high-major win since Feb. 2020.

But Friday night was all about habits, the ones Otzelberger and his staff have hammered home all summer long. And it paid off when it needed to.

“The habits that we build every single day are what showed up tonight,” Otzelberger said.

Iowa State will have to do the little things to win games like Friday night, especially if the offense slumps for stretches like it did against the Beavers. The Cyclones shot 43.9 percent from the field and 7-26 from three-point range. But when you turn a team over 10 times in the first half and stick to what’s become Otzelberger’s calling card, you can be Iowa State and walk into halftime up six.

Oregon State headed into its locker room shooting 9-29 from the field at halftime with nine turnovers, allowing Iowa State to score 10 points off the miscues and move in transition with pace. This comes after Iowa State had 19 points off turnovers against Kennesaw State in its season-opener on Tuesday.

“I’m excited, I’m happy that the habits coach has instilled in us carry on to the court,” Gabe Kalscheur said. “I feel like we really brought the intensity on the offensive and defensive end, especially on the defensive end.”

“We sped them up and we made them do what we wanted them to do and we came out with the ‘W.'”

Kalscheur ended with 15 points, four assists and one steal, encompassing the intensity and effort Iowa State expects to play with on a nightly basis. 

Friday’s first half was the first time since Feb. 13 against Kansas that the Cyclones have held an opponent under 34 percent shooting in the first half. 

It’s one thing for a new head coach in Otzelberger to talk about an emphasis on defense and pressuring opponents, but after a 2-22 season and 0-18 conference record, can you buy into that approach? Friday would say yes and Otzelberger couldn’t be happier.

It’s one thing to preach in practice. It’s another to hold a team that just went to the Elite Eight a season ago to 34 percent from the field.

“We talked about coming in here and building this with intensity defensively, pressuring the basketball, really guarding the dribble, flying around, taking charges, diving for loose balls,” Otzelberger said. “That’s, to me, what Cyclone basketball is and will be moving forward.”

Iowa State continued to build on its lead in the second half, at one point going up by as many as 16 with just under 10 minutes left. But even without an abundance of Beaver turnovers like the first half, the Cyclones kept Oregon State in check to the tune of 5-15 shooting and 0-5 from three with just over 10 minutes to play.

The Beavers marginally improved on their first half shooting numbers in the second frame at 35.7 percent. Not a winning recipe when Iowa State is caring as much as it was on defense. 

But that care doesn’t come from just anywhere. It starts on the practice floor. And it starts with a buy-in into daily habits.

Cliche or not, it’s what fueled Iowa State to victory on Friday in a packed house at Hilton Coliseum.

“Habits are what win you games like this,” Izaiah Brockington said.

Brockington picked up a double-double on the night with 10 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. The Penn State transfer said postgame that the Cyclones made it a point to out-work the Beavers on the glass and win the gritty moments. And that effort and focus gave him a career-high 12 boards.

Heading into the weekend, the Cyclones sit at 2-0 for the first time since the 2018-19 season and see the fruits of their labor pay off early in the season.