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Iowa State Daily

Three Big Takeaways: Early residency in the paint propels Cyclones to dominant Cy-Hawk win

Tyler Coe
Robert Jones makes a post move against Iowa at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 7, 2023.

AMES — Brick by brick Iowa State built its house in the paint, and along with the usual lockdown defense, the Cyclones charged through the Hawkeyes in a 90-65 trot.

Right out of the gate, Iowa State established powerful home-court play offensively, complemented by its usual tight play on the other side. After the Cyclones jumped out to a jolting 16-9 lead through the first five minutes, the Hawkeyes failed to find an answer the rest of the night.

In what is now Iowa State’s largest margin of victory in the Cy-Hawk rivalry, it obtained a convincing win in a much-needed spot early in the season.

Living in the paint

Iowa State started the night offensively with a pair of and-one layups from Robert Jones and Tre King, who both connected on their free throws.

From that point on, it became clear what the Cyclones were planning on doing the rest of the night: pressure the paint and out-muscle the Hawkeyes.

That aggressiveness inside carried on throughout the whole night, which was a driving factor in the Cyclones jumping out to their big lead. That energy transcended through the entire Iowa State lineup and led the Cyclones to finish

“That is the gameplan every night,” King said. “Credit to guys like Keshon [Gilbert] and Tamin [Lipsey] who make the plays getting downhill. We really just played off of them. It’s really easy when we’re in sync and all flowing like we did tonight.”

To the tune of 46 points down low, Iowa State controlled the game offensively and kept the foot on the gas the entire night. The Cyclones finished the game shooting 53% from the field, including 24 makes from inside the 3-point line.

Even though the Cyclones did not sink their first 3-pointer until there were five minutes left in the first half, the success they found in the paint outweighed their distaste for shooting outside.

“Come out strong, come out physical and let them know that we here and this is our court,” Jones said. “That starts down low in the paint. You control the paint, you control the game. And we just had to make sure we brought that fight immediately right out the gate.”

Big men came to play

The veteran duo of King and Jones fueled Iowa State throughout the night on both sides of the court. The and-one connections each forward had early in the first half set the tone for the rest of the night on offense, as they each constantly worked their way around Iowa in the post.

“We felt like there was some opportunities to get Rob [Jones] and Tre [King] going right away,” head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Those guys did an exceptional job of finishing and going right at the rim, and that set the tone for the whole game.”

Jones finished the night going perfect on his six attempts from the field, which led him to an 18-point outing, including six boards and a pair of steals.

The Minnesota native has come a long way since joining the team in 2021, and his progression was hard to miss under the bright lights of Hilton. Against the Hawkeyes his first time around, he came off the bench. This time he was trusted with a starting job in the post.

After an electric dunk late in the second half, Jones was checked out for the rest of the game and was awarded his much-deserved love from the crowd. With a storybook ending for the fifth-year senior and a night that he described as “delightful,” he could not imagine a better way to go out against the Hawkeyes.

Robert Jones encourages the crowd to stand on their feet against Iowa at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 7, 2023. (Tyler Coe)

“It doesn’t get better than beating your rival to end your career. Having the crowd respond like that is just magical,” Jones said.

Along with being one of the new leaders of the team, Jones has been asked to step into many new roles this season. His toughness and well-known energy on the court have shown his love of being a Cyclone in some of the most important moments early on this season.

“That jersey means a lot to him; being a Cyclone means a whole bunch to him,” Otzelberger said. “When you have a guy on your side that you feel like if a fight went down that you got the toughest guy on your side, it makes everybody feel a bit tougher, and [Jones] brings that to our team.”

Clogging up the lanes

Sticking with tradition, much of Iowa State’s success offensively came off of its gritty defense. The team backed up a hot start in the paint with tight coverage on the other side of the court and essentially took out the floorboards inside.

The Cyclones forced Iowa into tough possessions early on and found success forcing turnovers and making the Hawkeyes take poor shots.

Through the first 12 minutes of the game, Iowa State had forced seven Hawkeye turnovers, which drove its offense to jump out to a 27-14 lead. By the end of the first half, the Cyclones forced 12 turnovers resulting in 15 points off the Hawkeyes’ mistakes.

The Cyclones held the Hawkeyes to 35% from the floor in the first half and often left no space on the court for Iowa to take a shot.

“We wanted to have pressure on the basketball, and then off the basketball we wanted to load up in those gaps,” Otzelberger said. “When they’re thinking about going into the paint, there is the risk of a turnover, and that hesitancy [is] on their mind. Our guys did a great job in getting focused.”

Iowa State’s defense continued to excel until the final buzzer.

The Cyclones finished with a commanding 19 forced turnovers, with 25 points scored off of those takeaways, highlighted by 12 steals and six blocks.

“Defense wins games, and defense wins championships,” Jones said. “Getting a stop and playing great defense is absolutely a prime example of what we did tonight and what we’re going to continue to do.”

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