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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones rediscover defensive identity, survive West Virginia scare

Elizabeth Lane
Jackson Paveletzke plays defense during the Iowa State vs. West Virginia basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 24, 2024.

AMES — Even though it came more hard-fought than expected, the Cyclones locked in on defense and rediscovered their identity to keep West Virginia at bay 71-64.

A double-digit halftime lead disappeared in the blink of an eye as Iowa State went ice cold from the field. That was not an unfamiliar place for the Cyclones, so when West Virginia did storm back, they knew what they needed to do.

When the dust settled, Iowa State stayed perfect at Hilton and sustained its hopes of sitting atop the Big 12.

Off shooting night from both sides

Early on it was clear that the game was not going to be as easy as expected.

The Cyclones may have been favored by nearly 20 points, but it was West Virginia that built up a near double-digit lead in the opening minutes.

Every possession Iowa State had fell short. On the other end, West Virginia was shooting lights out, which was unexpected from a team that ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 when it came to scoring.

With West Virginia leading 11-2, it was Milan Momcilovic that broke the silence, as his 3-pointer gave the Cyclones life. Followed shortly by back-to-back threes from Curtis Jones, Iowa State was back in the game.

Despite amassing a 10-point lead at half, Iowa State opened the second half the same as the first. With the Cyclones missing nearly every shot in the first 10 minutes, West Virginia clawed back into the game.

“It felt like the first half, we were a step slow. Early in the second half, we were a step slow,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said.

The Cyclones hit the midway point in the second half on a three-minute scoring drought that saw West Virginia take the lead. West Virginia was shooting uncharacteristically well all day, while the Cyclones could not buy a made-bucket.

Tre King was the Cyclone to break the drought with a layup high off the glass. From that point on, Iowa State was back in the game.

The big difference maker in the game was Iowa State’s lack of offensive presence. That was mainly due to the fact that Iowa State’s most potent scorer, Keshon Gilbert, was riding the bench more than expected due to early foul trouble.

With Gilbert’s minutes up for grabs, someone needed to step up to give the Cyclones life in the face of early struggles in both halves. That player was Jackson Paveletzke.

‘Instant impact’: Paveletzke brings much-needed energy

“I’d say the first thing is just instant impact. Bringing energy off of the bench,” Tamin Lipsey said.

“Instant impact” was the name of the game for the Cyclones all day. With West Virginia constantly storming back, the Cyclones needed any spark they could get.

Jackson Paveletzke throws up his three and celebrates after draining a 3-pointer during the Iowa State vs West Virginia basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 24, 2024. (Elizabeth Lane)

Paveletzke provided that spark early in the first half as he checked in for Lipsey. On his first possession on the court, Paveletzke drove into the lane and knocked down a mid-range jump shot.

One possession later, Paveletzke buried a 3-pointer to build Iowa State’s lead even more. Not long after, he secured a steal which led to a layup from Robert Jones on the other end to put the Cyclones up by double-digits.

“[Paveletzke] was outstanding,” Otzelberger said.

In the six minutes he was on the court in the first half, Paveletzke was perfect from the field and had seven points. He was providing the “instant impact” Iowa State needed when it needed it most.

With the second half opening the same as the first, the Cyclones turned to Paveletzke again. As he checked in, Hilton erupted with cheers. The tides were about to shift.

“What we love about him is that spirit, that fight. The same thing our fans love,” Otzelberger said. “They’re cheering for it, they see him flying around on defense, being aggressive, attacking on offense, so he’s an easy guy to pull for.”

After a couple minutes of quiet play from both teams, Paveletzke knocked down a mid-range shot to keep the Cyclones ahead.

Not only was Paveletzke providing a spark on offense, he locked in on defense with West Virginia looking for an upset. He was impacting the court wherever he was.

“Being ready, and whenever I get out there, just trying to make an impact,” Paveletzke said.

Late defensive push keeps Iowa State on top

With West Virginia on the verge of an upset, the Cyclones needed stops on defense to put the game away. Iowa State was known for its defense, and it was time to remember who it was.

“That’s as good a defense as you’ll see all year. Them and Houston rival each other,” West Virginia head coach Josh Eilert said.

The Mountaineers did not just cut into Iowa State’s lead, they took the lead. With shots not falling for the Cyclones, they had to hang their hats on defense if they wanted to stay perfect at home.

They did just that thanks to consistent defensive stops.

West Virginia was up 51-50. Six minutes later, West Virginia still had 51 points.

In that time, Iowa State ran away with the game.

“Nine minute mark, we’re up 51-50 and go a six-minute stretch without a field goal. Just couldn’t stop that bleeding,” Eilert said.

Turnovers, defensive stops and mistakes from West Virginia helped Iowa State take back the reins. Every possession from the Mountaineers started and ended with Iowa State’s defense coming out on top.

“That’s what we were trying to do the whole game, but unfortunately, we didn’t come out as intense as we wanted to on the defensive side,” Lipsey said. “I remember we kept them at 51 points for a long stretch there, and that’s how we were able to pull away.”

With West Virginia going six minutes without a score, Iowa State went on a 14-0 run to build up a 13-point lead. That was the largest lead of the night.

When Iowa State needed time to find its groove on offense, its defense got the stops. When the defense needed a break, its offense got the buckets.

“It’s buckets and stops,” Paveletzke said.

When all was said and done, the Cyclones survived the scare at home and came out on top.

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