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Pressure in the paint, forced turnovers help Cyclones leap over Idaho State

Matteo Bender
Robert Jones playing physical during the Iowa State vs. Idaho State matchup, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 12, 2023.

AMES — On an off day offensively, the Cyclones relied on shots from the line, aggressive play in the paint and forced turnovers to drive them to an 86-55 win over Idaho State on Sunday.

Against an undersized team in the Bengals, Iowa State utilized its advantage in that department and focused on pushing the ball inside, which is something it has focused on all season.

Iowa State strayed away from the 3-point shot early on and finished the game attempting 13 shots from 3-point territory with four finding their way through the net. In comparison, the Bengals scored eight threes, four in each half, on 19 attempts.

Normally when a team is outscored from beyond the arc, especially by double the amount of makes, it does not fare well for the ones with cold hands. But for the Cyclones, their inside pressure made up for an off night from the field, to the tune of 46 points in the paint.

Whether it was with guard Keshon Gilbert or forwards Robert Jones, Tre King and Hason Ward, the Cyclones worked the ball inside throughout the game and drew a combined 15 fouls.

Gilbert got into foul trouble early on, ending the first half with three, but was trusted by head coach T.J. Otzelberger to adjust defensively while also having the same tenacity to drive into the paint on offense.

“He has those drives in transition where he just attacks the rim and gets all the way downhill,” Otzelberger said. “His motor, his energy, his attacking mindset really gives us a dynamic to our offense that is effective.”

Gilbert has shown through the first three games that he’s not afraid of a little contact and put his head down on multiple drives to the basket throughout the game.

“[Gilbert] is a guy that you want on your team. He’s a good guy in the locker room, a great guy on the court and his energy is contagious,” Curtis Jones said.

Keshon Gilbert shooting during the Iowa State vs. Idaho State match, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 12, 2023. (Matteo Bender)

Curtis Jones was one of four Cyclones to score in double figures with 14 and had a breakout game after a slow start to his stint at Iowa State in the first two games. He admitted that he needed a couple of games to get back in his groove and put in work off the court to get where he wanted to be.

“The first two games I felt a little rust,” Curtis Jones said. “Watching film and going through practice, I’ve been able to get reps every day, and tonight I was able to knock down a couple shots. Obviously I’ve been struggling but it felt good.”

King, Ward and Robert Jones all displayed a physical mentality with the ball in their hands and backed down any Bengal defender that was on them. Iowa State quickly learned what was working for them, with 28 of its 44 first-half points coming in the paint, and continued to feed the ball inside to its big men throughout the rest of the game.

The trio of forwards combined for 32 points, with King leading the way with 16. They each drew three or more fouls and accounted for eight of the Cyclones’ 20 makes from the charity stripe.

Robert Jones was adamant about brushing off the number of threes they made and instead assured that the team’s mentality of getting into the paint was the same as it has been all season. It just looked different against the Bengals.

“We got an in-the-paint mentality right now,” Robert Jones said. “We try to make sure we can get in the paint before we get outside the paint, making sure even when our threes come, it comes out of kick-out threes so making sure we get in the paint first and kicking it out for threes. We found that we get more points per possession when we get into the paint.”

The veteran forwards are all returners in the Otzelberger system, and the group is one that the team will be relying on throughout the season to establish their dominance in the paint and around the boards.

“Those guys did a really good job, and we expect them to continue to do that,” Otzelberger said. “They’re all veteran senior guys, whether it’s fifth year or whatever it is. We’ll continue to count on them to bring that physicality and effort in the paint.”

On the other side of the court, Iowa State’s defense once again was a driving factor for the offense.

The Cyclones finished the game with 24 forced turnovers, including 17 steals, and were sure to execute on those extra chances on offense, scoring 24 points off their turnovers.

Robert Jones is well aware of how much the offense benefits from their constant pressure on defense, and making it something they need to keep focusing on regardless of how well they are shooting the ball.

“Just bringing that defensive mentality every game is important because on days where the shot may not be falling, the defense is still going to back us up,” Robert Jones said. “[We are] just making sure we hang our hat on defense and getting stops. All of a sudden you get a few stops and now you get some easy offense as well.”

The fifth-year senior had three steals and four rebounds to go along with his eight points in 19 minutes and received praise from Otzelberger for his constant efforts on defense, which has in turn improved his offense.

“What I’ve seen from Rob [Jones] is him to focus and be so diligent defensively,” Otzelberger said. “Getting the loose balls, getting the rebounds, blocking out, running the floor, then things go your way. You see him get that run-out dunk in transition. Well that’s a by-product of how hard he’s playing on defense.”

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