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Iowa State Daily

Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones late surge declaws Wildcats in home thriller

Sam Petri
Tamin Lipsey guards Kansas State player on Jan. 24, 2024, in Hilton Coliseum.

AMES — Iowa State came out of a gritty physical battle against Kansas State with a 78-67 win thanks to the efforts of Curtis Jones, Milan Momcilovic and the free throw line.

It was not a pretty win, as the Wildcats stopped purring in the second half and bared their teeth, but the Cyclones made the most of a plethora of opportunities at the charity stripe to cling onto a lead.

With Hilton Magic in full force and the crowd feeding energy into the team, Iowa State won the battle of attrition and dashed Kansas State’s hopes of upsetting the Cyclones on their home turf.

The rim plays favorites, Wildcats claw back

After weeks of struggling from deep and not putting up shots when needed, the Cyclones came out with intensity in the first half. The biggest improvement from past games was the efficiency and volume of 3-pointers.

Momcilovic led the pack early on, burying a pair of deep shots. As a whole, the Cyclones opened the game knocking down 4-of-7 from 3-point land.

Although Iowa State was outscored in the paint, which seemed to be a rarity, Kansas State could not guard the skies from the raining threes.

As halftime rolled around, the Cyclones amassed a 12-point lead.

However, it would soon be Kansas State’s turn on the rim that blessed the Cyclones.

Iowa State looked off as there was a tone shift in Hilton. The Cyclones could not hit shots while Kansas State could not miss.

The Cyclones were turning the ball over too, which led to wide open 3-pointers for the Wildcats. In the blink of an eye, Kansas State was in firing range of the Cyclones.

“That second half we just kinda fell apart,” Momcilovic said.

Wasted opportunities on the other end of the court led to a near comeback for the Wildcats. Kansas State started the half outscoring the Cyclones 13-4.

Not only that, Kansas State started the half 4-for-4 from deep. One more made 3-pointer cut Iowa State’s lead to just one point.

“Felt like a lot of times in that second half, we would have liked to be more out in front of plays than we were. We were just a little bit late, maybe a step slow,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said.

Despite Kansas State’s best efforts, the Cyclones did not break. Otzelberger said the team bent more than it would have liked, but it never broke.

Even with the game tied up at times, the Cyclones never gave up their lead to the Wildcats, thanks to the efforts of a pair of sharpshooters.

“I think mentally, it’s so important that you don’t relinquish that lead,” Otzelberger said. “You’re confident as long as you’re out in front.”

Jones and Momcilovic stop the bleeding

Momcilovic was the hero of the first minutes of the game, but it was Jones who kept the Cyclones alive in the second half time and time again.

When Jones found his way to the charity stripe, he connected. Along with that, whenever Kansas State knocked down a big three, Jones was there to hit a floater on the other end to keep the Cyclones on top.

“I thought tonight particularly, him getting to his floater, hitting some big shots for us at times when we really needed him,” Otzelberger said.

With Kansas State within two, Jones floated in another bucket to get Hilton on its feet.

Of the Cyclones’ first 10 points of the half, Jones had six.

However, his most impactful time had not come yet. It was not until late in the game that he put the win away after minutes of struggle to maintain momentum.

With less than three minutes left in the game, Kansas State was hanging close to Iowa State. After another sloppy offensive possession, Keshon Gilbert hurled the ball across the court to Momcilovic while falling out of bounds.

Momcilovic quickly kicked the ball to his right to a wide open Jones. He let the ball fly.


Hilton rose to its feet and erupted as Iowa State took a five-point lead.

“That basket gave us a lot of confidence,” Otzelberger said. “The crowd exploded.”

Jones’ 3-pointer lit a fire under the rest of the team, as the 3-point curse seemed to end. Not long after, Momcilovic let one fly from deep that hit nothing but net.

“[Tamin Lipsey] came off the ball screen, my defender kinda was in the paint, and then kicked it out to me. He short closed, wide open three and just knocked it down,” Momcilovic said.

“We’ve seen him. He loves the big moment,” Otzelberger said.

Free throws galore

Despite the highlight plays from Jones and Momcilovic, the Cyclones did not thrive in the second half from the field. In fact, the two big deep shots from Jones and Momcilovic were the only made threes of the half.

It was the quiet and hard-fought efforts of players like Gilbert in the paint that created opportunities throughout the night for the Cyclones to stay in the game. Kansas State thrived off shots from deep, while the Cyclones thrived off trips to the free throw line.

Although there were not many fouls called in the first half, that was about to change in the second.

With the refs’ whistles fully warmed up and firing at a high clip, trips to charity stripe were coming with ease for both teams.

“We had to adjust a little bit, because they started calling ticky-tack fouls. Which in the Big 12, we didn’t think those were fouls,” Momcilovic said.

With fouls coming with ease, fortune favored the team that made the most trips to the line, which happened to be the Cyclones. In the second half alone, Iowa State outshot Kansas State 27-13 from the charity stripe while connecting on 19 points from the line.

Kansas State did everything in its power to stop the Cyclones on defense, but it still could not defend against the free throws.

“It’s just impossible to defend the free throw line,” Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang said.

The trips to the line also caused stoppage in play, which cut off much of Kansas State’s momentum throughout the second half. Iowa State could collect itself more often and be ready for Kansas State’s attack.

However, it did create hiccups for Iowa State’s offense as well.

“It was tough to really get into it, because there were so many free throws shot,” Momcilovic said.

Despite the flow of the game creating a challenge, Gilbert was the player who kept the Cyclone in the game from selfless plays in the paint. The second half highlighted his willingness to put his body on the line for a Cyclone win.

In the second half, Gilbert drew six fouls. Not only that, he was all over the defensive glass, coming down with 13 total rebounds.

At the end of the night, Gilbert recorded a triple-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“There was certainly nobody that made more toughness, gritty plays in that game than [Gilbert],” Otzelberger said.

The grittiness of the game ended up favoring the Cyclones in the end, as Kansas State could not hold on long enough to upset them at home.

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