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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones continue offensive success, improve to 4-0

Jacob Rice
Tamin Lipsey moves the ball up the court during the ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023.

AMES — Iowa State’s electric guard play and a freshman breakout performance charge the Cyclones to a 92-37 win over Grambling State, moving them to 4-0 to start the season.

The Cyclones finish their first four games of the season undefeated for the third straight year in the T.J. Otzelberger era, thanks to their dynamic offense through their veteran guards and pesky defense on the other end.

Iowa State scored over 90 points for the second time this season, which before this season had not happened once with Otzelberger at the helm. The mix of veterans in the Cyclone system and the new playmakers on offense shined against the Tigers as Iowa State now focuses on the ESPN Events Invitational.

Here are the three big takeaways from the Cyclones’ promising win against Grambling State.

Trio of guards leads first-half offense

The starting backcourt tandem of Keshon Gilbert and Tamin Lipsey pushed the pace of the Cyclone offense throughout the first half, and played a major role in building their 48-14 lead going into the break.

The two were given an immense amount of trust to lead the offense as they missed a combined eight minutes on the floor in the first half.

Lipsey was constantly working to set up and find an open teammate, whether it was on the perimeter or in the paint, and continues to improve his passing ability from last season. He finished the first half leading the team with eight assists and 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting from the field.

The Ames native has continued his upward trajectory following a solid first season at Iowa State, averaging seven assists per game and 14 points per game through four games to start his sophomore season.

“[Lipsey] certainly came out and set the tone to start the game,” Otzelberger said. “I have so much trust and belief in Tamin [Lipsey] over what he’s shown us already.”

When the ball was not in Lipsey’s hands, Gilbert was finding his way into the paint with his usual slipperiness and tenacity to find his route to the rim. He finished the first half with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes.

Iowa State’s success from its guards carried through to the bench with the help of Curtis Jones’ sharpshooting. He has settled into his role as a true shooting guard off the bench for the Cyclones and a spot-up shooter when the efforts in the paint are not working.

Jones finished the first half with 10 points, highlighted by a pair of threes, and three steals on the other end.

Lipsey praised the atmosphere and success that this team’s depth has brought at the start of the season, which he believes is hard to game plan for.

“It’s hard for teams to come out with that much energy but we have a lot of depth and a lot of guys that are going to go out and compete every night,” Lipsey said.

The trio of guards each settled down offensively as other members of the Cyclones started to get going. Gilbert, Lipsey and Jones combined for 44 points on 15-for-24 shooting from the field including 5-for-11 from beyond the arc.

“Those three guards are all really good players, they need to continue to focus their mind in the right place to continue to play well,” Otzelberger said.

Biliew breakout game

Before the game on Sunday, it was announced that forward Hason Ward would be out for at least the remainder of the non-conference schedule while he nurses a left foot injury.

With the loss of a member of the starting five, someone needed to step up off the bench. While Robert Jones was the one who got the call-up as a starter, true freshman Omaha Biliew had his highly-anticipated standout performance.

After it looked like the spotlight was too bright for Biliew to handle, he silenced any doubt with his 14 points off the bench, including a pair of aggressive dunks in the second half.

Heading into the game, the five-star recruit had averaged four points in his first three games and could not seem to get into his offense when on the floor. With the help of his teammates and coaches, Biliew has made strides in adjusting to the collegiate level which will help fill the loss of Ward.

Omaha Biliew takes a deep breath before taking a free throw during the ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023. (Jacob Rice)

“I feel like the game slowed down for me,” Biliew said. “My point guards Tamin [Lipsey and Keshon [Gilbert] are always on me and they’re going to get me right coming into the game. Just playing with a high motor every time and just playing hard every single time on my defense.”

Otzelberger has talked about the pressure that Biliew is likely dealing with, wanting to play well for his team, his family and live out his lifelong dream of playing for Iowa State. He is impressed with the growth that his freshman forward showed against the Tigers and hopes Biliew takes pride in his performance.

“The game slows down when you focus on the right things and he put his focus on those areas,” Otzelberger said. “He should feel good about the progress he made and then he should understand that he made that progress because of his focus in practice, his focus this morning and our preparation.”

Defense at a season-best

As per usual, the Cyclones dominated defensively and forced Grambling State into tough shots throughout the game and won the turnover battle 21-14, with 28 points scored off of those extra chances.

Against the Tigers, Iowa State gave up the least amount of points so far this season and held Grambling State to under 30% shooting from the field.

Whereas the last few seasons the Cyclones have played more aggressively on defense, which in turn led to more foul calls, the team has instead focused on making other teams make mistakes with a healthy dose of pressure outside of the paint.

“We’re not trying to be as high-risk high-reward maybe as what we’ve been in the past,” Otzelberger said. “We’re trying to do a better job being sound and then having certain areas where we feel like we can maybe generate a turnover.”

There were times against the Tigers when Iowa State allowed the defenders to catch up in transition which against other teams will hinder the Cyclone offense. Although the defense looks to be at its best, Otzelberger still thinks a few tweaks here and there can be done.

“Where we’ve continued to improve and need to is turning those turnovers into points,” Otzelberger said. “I know a lot of times people get caught up in the pace of play but teams when they get their defense set you can shoot fast but that may not be the best interest in your offense.”

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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    Jim | Nov 19, 2023 at 5:57 pm

    “Dicey” doesn’t mean good. It means iffy or shaky.