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‘This doesn’t define our season’: Adversity proves beneficial for young Cyclone team

Jacob Rice
Curtis Jones looks for an open teammate during the ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023.

AMES — The Cyclones were dealt their first blow of the season in Orlando, Florida, dropping two straight games, but they knew something like that was bound to happen.

Every team faces adversity at times. Although the Cyclones have experienced perfection in the recent past through the non-conference season, they knew adversity was bound to come at some point.

“I think that Orlando was the first time we really experienced adversity,” Tre King said. “I think the first five games, we were playing some teams that we could really impose our will on. Orlando was the first real challenge.”

Iowa State opened the season rolling past every team it faced. Not only was the team undefeated going into the ESPN Events Invitational, it was setting scoring records with ease.

The Cyclones did in fact impose their will on their early-season opponents. However, they were in for a rude awakening when the level of competition stepped up quickly.

“We didn’t handle adversity as well as we should have, and then we put ourselves in some really challenging positions,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said.

All three of the games in Orlando were tough challenges. Whether it was a late-game comeback against VCU or a blown lead against Texas A&M, the Cyclones had a variety of different experiences in each game.

Otzelberger mentioned that no part of any of the three games was perfect. Iowa State started from behind against VCU and Virginia Tech while letting a large lead slide late against Texas A&M.

The big issue with each game is that the Cyclones could not piece together two solid halves in each game.

“We just gotta play a full 40 minutes,” Curtis Jones said. “We put together some good halves and some not-so-good halves, so I just feel like if we play a full 40 minutes, we’ll come out on top.”

Playing a full 40 minutes has been an issue with the team in past seasons and even popped up from time to time early in the non-conference season, as shots fell short at times.

In order to play hard for the entire game, the team has to focus on taking things one possession at a time. Otzelberger talked about the importance of finding a rhythm.

“What we’ve gotta really aim to do is just keep doing our job every single possession, regardless of up or down or things are going our way or not, and then we’ll stack up those positive plays,” Otzelberger said.

Chaining together positive plays will be the key to success going forward. When the Cyclones looked their best in Orlando, they were stacking up good plays consistently.

That was not just getting shots to fall on offense either. Late in the game against VCU, the Cyclones were starting to click on offense, as Tamin Lipsey and Keshon Gilbert scored with ease. The defense was also stepping up to get stops and secure rebounds to give the offense more chances at a comeback.

“No matter what happens on offense, we get a stop. No matter what happens with this shot, we’re gonna be on the glass. No matter what’s going on in the game, we’re gonna share the basketball,” Otzelberger said. “That’s the poise, the togetherness and the growth that this team needs to show.”

When the team comes together, success comes easily, which was clear in the first half against Texas A&M. When things are not coming together, the team showed that it can fall back on its foundation and keep games close.

That foundation is and has been defense. Since the start of the Otzelberger era, the Cyclones have shown how important defense is to winning games. So when shots are not falling, staying steady on defense can keep the Cyclones in games, which was on display against VCU.

“We just gotta play better defense if it’s not falling,” Jones said. “We hang our hat on defense. If we play defense and shots aren’t falling, we’ll always be in the game at least.”

No matter what the rest of the season has in store, the losses in Orlando were a good learning opportunity for the team. It showed places where the team can improve and how to succeed against strong competition.

The season is not over because the Cyclones lost two games, and they know that.

“Nobody has a really perfect season,” Jones said. “There’s gonna be highs and lows to every season—just staying level-headed through it all, just knowing that we’ll get through it. There’s always adversity you have to fight through.”

Fighting through adversity early on will also help the team when it comes to the conference season. In previous seasons, that adversity did not come until deep into Big 12 play, which in turn caused the issues to bleed into the postseason.

Dealing with adversity sooner rather than later can help the team know what to do differently when it crops up later on.

“Knowing that we’ve experienced it early, we know how to avoid it when it matters,” King said.

When the time comes, the Cyclones will be prepared to make the correct adjustments faster than they did in Orlando. Adversity is part of the growth process, especially with the youth on the team.

“I was telling guys after our first loss, ‘This doesn’t define our season. It’s just another opportunity for us to learn and grow and get better,’” King said.

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