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Iowa State Daily

Effort, physicality highlight Iowa State’s recent matchups

Elizabeth Lane
Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones help Tamin Lipsey up during the Iowa State vs Cincinnati basketball game at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, Feb. 13, 2024.

AMES — The Cyclones fought hard against one of the top teams in the nation on enemy turf and nearly pulled out a win, proving that they can play physical and gritty when need be, especially against tournament-caliber opponents.

Although losing to Houston by eight points was not what the Cyclones went there to do, they were not disappointed with the effort. Staying close to a team like Houston is a good sign for the upcoming postseason.

When tournament season rolls around, the Cyclones will have to fight in every game to stay alive, so showing they can hang with a top-three team was a positive takeaway from Monday’s contest.

“We expected to win. That’s the mentality we came in with—kinda just showed we can hang with anyone in the country,” Milan Momcilovic said.

That winning mentality is something that head coach T.J. Otzelberger instilled in his team before the season, and now he is learning how much fight his team has thanks to that mentality.

“We learned we can fight with anybody,” Otzelberger said.

Despite the outcome, the Cyclones left Houston proud of something. The effort on display throughout the full 40 minutes was unmatched.

Throughout all of Big 12 play, the Cyclones have fought and clawed for every loose ball and every win. When the dust settles, the Cyclones either come out on top or close to it.

“I mean, from an effort standpoint, you certainly can’t fault our guys,” Otzelberger said.

That effort showed through in the physicality Iowa State had against Houston. Entering the matchup, Houston sported a physically defensive presence that smothered any team that entered Fertitta Center.

Iowa State rivaled Houston in physicality all night and out-rebounded the Cougars. That feat was not possible for nearly every team Houston has faced.

“We did physical, effort-based things at a high level. We didn’t back down,” Otzelberger said.

The effort Iowa State puts on display on every possession is a big reason for its success. Fighting into the lane, throwing their bodies at the rim and even diving for loose balls has become a staple of the Cyclones’ way of play.

In fact, Curtis Jones put his body on the line against Houston as he dove for a loose ball and ended up scraping his knee. However, that effort has become second nature for Jones and the rest of the team with the way it practices.

“My knee doin’ alright. It’s got some scratches on it, but that’s part of the game,” Jones said.

The Cyclones have bought into the physicality that Otzelberger preaches. Jones made it clear that getting on the floor is just a small part of that physicality.

With the way Otzelberger has instilled the importance of daily habits in the team, practice has become a main place of focus for the Cyclones. If they are not giving full effort in practice or diving for loose balls, Jones said they get an earful.

“You don’t wanna get chewed out, so I’d rather get on the floor than get chewed out,” Jones said.

The speed that the new players adapted to the physicality of the Big 12 is another thing that may have come as a surprise to some, but not to the team. The work they did in the offseason is key to how fast the freshmen and transfers picked up the Big 12 pace of play.

“It’s what I expected just because everyone talks about how physical this league is, so I came in with the mentality that it’s gonna be physical,” Momcilovic said.

As tournament season quickly approaches, the Cyclones are peaking at the right time. With the defense, physicality and overall effort the Cyclones are playing with and with what was on display against Houston, they have a chance to make a statement in the postseason.

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