‘You see guys step up’: Cyclones find sparks against Grambling State

Aljaz Kunc defends against the inbounds pass against Grambling State on Nov. 21.

Matt Belinson

AMES — T.J. Otzelberger knows what the Cyclones have to do to win. 

They have to rebound with effort. They have to get good looks from three — and knock them down when they’re there. Energy can’t waiver.

But after Izaiah Brockington, the Cyclones’ leading scorers three games in, picked up two fouls within the first five minutes and Gabe Kalscheur started 0-4 from the field, Iowa State needed a spark to light its fire.

And what it got was more than a spark. It was a volt of electricity. 

Iowa State’s bench out-scored the entire Tigers team by themselves, posting 50 points on the night to the Tigers’ 47 total points as a team.

He’s only four games into his tenure as the head-man of the Iowa State program, but Otzelberger is confident in what his group brings to the table every night: a little bit of everything. 

It’s why he trusted his bench like he did on Sunday, and it’s why his confidence only grew after a convincing win to move to 4-0 for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

“What I like about our team is that we have a lot of guys that bring something to the table,” Otzelberger said. “What I know about our team for us to be successful, everyone has to do that every single night.”

“We don’t have the margin to be able to have some guys not do their job on a given night.”

The leading man off the bench was Aljaz Kunc, a transfer from Washington State, who ended the night with a career-high 21 points on a perfect 7-7 shooting and 5-5 from three.

The senior forward from Slovenia added seven rebounds and three assists to his best night by a mile as a Cyclone. Kunc matched the program record for three-point percentage in a game (minimum 5 made).

As Brockington and Kalscheur struggle to stay in rhythm and put the ball in the basket — finishing a combined 0-7 from the field with four turnovers and five personal fouls — Iowa State leaned on those players on the fringes to take a step up.

“I like how today I feel like we kept our focus for 40 minutes,” Kunc said. “I feel like that was our problem for the first three games. We’d go up, get an advantage and then we’d kind of relax. I feel like today we stepped on their neck and brought it home.”

“We have veteran guys that have proved in the past that they can hit shots. And that’s what we did today.”

The Cyclones’ other leading man was Tristan Enaruna, who although has started all four games this season, posted career-high numbers when Iowa State needed it most.

The transfer from Kansas had a career-high 15 points on 7-10 shooting, along with a career-high nine rebounds (four offensive) and a block. 

“I feel like we got a chance to create a feel for each other in the game and see what works well,” Enaruna said. 

Iowa State’s bench contributed 11 of the team’s 13 made-threes on Sunday, after the Cyclones shot 1-20 from distance against Alabama State last time out.

Sunday was the first time Iowa State’s bench had over 30 points since Feb 27 against TCU (37).

But if you ask Otzelberger about his group’s ability to respond and find new guys to win this was not unexpected. And as they head into the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, N.Y., that response will have to continue.

“What I like about our group is you see guys step up,” Otzelberger said.