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‘One game at a time’: Cyclones eliminate distractions ahead of Texas Tech

Curtis+Jones+and+Keshon+Gilbert+walk+back+to+the+bench+during+the+Iowa+State+vs+Cincinnati+basketball+game+at+Fifth+Third+Arena+in+Cincinnati%2C+Feb.+13%2C+2024.
Elizabeth Lane
Curtis Jones and Keshon Gilbert walk back to the bench during the Iowa State vs Cincinnati basketball game at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, Feb. 13, 2024.

With multiple opportunities left for the No. 10 Cyclones before the start of the postseason, they look to stay in the moment and defend home court with Texas Tech coming to town Saturday.

Iowa State sits in a position it has not seen in a long time, at least not with head coach T.J. Otzelberger at the helm. The Cyclones are fighting for a Big 12 regular season title in the middle of February.

As the Cyclones find themselves at the top of the conference standings with a tiebreaker over Houston, they are now the ones on upset alert every time they step on the court. While their position in the standings and the national rankings may have changed throughout the season, what has not is the mindset that Otzelberger has continued to iron into his players.

The hard work, daily habits and focus on what they can control that Otzelberger has preached is what stays at the forefront, with the distractions taking a much-needed back seat.

“Hopefully the more that those things are not only said but lived, that becomes the mindset, those become the habits and that becomes the reality that our guys adopt that,” Otzelberger said. “It is really nothing more than being the best you can in that moment.”

The Red Raiders will be the first of the Cyclones’ last seven conference opponents to throw them off their game and let their mental preparation go to waste.

Although Texas Tech, led by first-year head coach Grant McCasland, are on a two-game win streak they have been underwhelming as of late. After starting the season 14-2 and an undefeated start in Big 12 play through three games, the Red Raiders have gone 4-4 but are still in the race for the regular season title.

The underlying advantage that the Cyclones have heading into Saturday’s matchup is that they will be playing at home, where they have not dropped a game this season in 14 contests.

“We really make it a point as a team to not let anyone outplay us, outwork us and out-compete us on our home floor,” forward Tre King said. “Seeing 14,500 out there cheering us on definitely gives us a boost.”

The Red Raiders sit at 1-3 on the road in Big 12 play. Despite having the fourth-highest-scoring offense in the conference, their defense has been the issue as they have allowed the ninth-highest points per game in their 11 games this season.

McCasland has, however, put his squad in a solid position this season despite their late struggles. Texas Tech is led by sophomore guard Pop Isaacs who has averaged 17.2 points per game, and is one of six players who is averaging double-digit points for the Red Raiders.

“[McCasland] is a tremendous coach, he’s had success everywhere he has been,” Otzelberger said. “He’s put his plan in place right away and his guys have bought into that.”

While Texas Tech has seen solid offensive production all season, they will have to worry about the up-and-comers of the Cyclones. Iowa State’s new backcourt of Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones have each seen an uptick in scoring as of late, a major reason the Cyclones are 6-1 in their last seven games.

The two transfer guards have hit double figures in the scoring department in the last seven games, each looking more integrated and comfortable in Otzelberger’s system every game.

“Just kind of getting reps in together at practice every day and going against each other in the summer,” fellow guard Jackson Paveletzke said. “They have really been excelling and I’m happy for them.”

Even with the recent resurgence of Gilbert and Jones, the Cyclones will need to focus on slowing down the Red Raiders’ aggressive offense that they have shown all season. Texas Tech is coming off of a big win at home against No. 6 Kansas when they held the Jayhawks to 50 points, while the Red Raiders shot 49% from the field.

If the Cyclones stick to what has worked in their seven-game surge and get a win against Texas Tech, their path to winning the conference title will stay alive. But to do so, they will have to block out all distractions and focus on what is ahead.

This team is hungry, but they will only go as far as they want.

“Just kind of keeping the same mindset and treating every day like its own,” Paveletzke said. “We all got one goal in mind so we are just working for that every day.”

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