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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones survive another cold start in win over Oklahoma

Elizabeth Lane
Curtis Jones goes up for a layup during the Iowa State vs Oklahoma basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 28, 2024.

AMES — After a disastrous start offensively, trusty defensive pressure and a game-stealing performance from Demarion Watson helped the Cyclones escape with a 58-45 win over Oklahoma.

For the second game in a row, Iowa State relied on its bench depth to jump-start its offense and make up for first-half droughts. With cold nights from some of their most effective scorers, the Cyclones escaped another upset at home for the second straight game.

Iowa State stayed true to its defense to complement its young guards’ heartfelt performance to remain perfect at home this season and pick up its 11th win in the Big 12.

Flat start from the floor

The first few minutes of the game set the tone for what would be an ugly first half of shooting from both sides. Iowa State opened up the game going 1-for-5 from the field while Oklahoma started 1-for-7.

Each team relied on getting to the line, which resulted in each team having five connections from the charity stripe in the opening eight minutes. At that point, the score sat at 12-9 in favor of the Cyclones.

Although it held the lead, Iowa State did not feel comfortable with how it was holding on. The Cyclones went on a six-minute field goal drought, missing 11 straight shots which allowed Oklahoma to take a five-point lead.

“It was not pretty at all, it was ugly,” Curtis Jones said.

Iowa State could nor turn to anyone to make a shot from the floor in the first half. After 18 minutes of play, the Cyclones were 4-for-28 from the field, with their most efficient scorers Keshon Gilbert shooting 2-for-9 from the field and Tamin Lipsey 0-for-6.

The field goal drought was broken up by a jumper inside from Jones with two minutes remaining in the first half. Following that bucket, which broke the lifeless drought, Lipsey and Hason Ward each added a slippery score inside to put Iowa State up 25-20 going into half.

“Our defense just really stepped up, we had a good group in there,” Jones said. “[Ward and Watson] was really active on the ball screens. If those two are coming at you on the ball screen, we love our chances at that.”

Although they ended the first half on a 9-0 run, it felt like the Cyclones could have had a more comfortable lead had they taken smarter shots early on. They finished the first half going 7-for-35 from the floor, three of those makes coming in the final two minutes.

Watson’s career night revives Cyclones

Iowa State’s savior offensively came from an unlikely hero: bench guard Demarion Watson.

After recording a lone rebound and a pair of fouls during his nine minutes in the first half, Watson stepped up big time for the Cyclones. Iowa State remained neck and neck with the Sooners to start the second half before Watson emerged as the difference maker.

On a perfect shooting night from the field, Watson scored 15 points in the second half along with nine rebounds, finishing one board away from his first career double-double. Cutting through back doors and running to the hoop, Watson played his game and made the Sooners hurt for allowing him to do so.

“Our coaching staff always just stresses me staying on the move, using my speed and athleticism to just get those back cuts,” Watson said.

A sophomore guard that entered the game averaging a little over eight minutes a game was the sole reason Iowa State ran away with the game.

Watson’s career night was capped off when he checked out of the game with 25 seconds remaining. He felt the love from the Hilton crowd for the first time.

“It was a surreal moment,” Watson said.

“It was amazing, I was just loving it and embracing it.”

While the fans cheered him on as he made his way to the bench, head coach T.J. Otzelberger brought him in close and told him to embrace it, because it was fully deserved.

“I told him how proud of him I was and how impactful he was on us winning the game,” Otzelberger said. “I wanted him to look around and see 14,000 people who appreciated the effort he gave and the energy he had. He should feel great about it.”

Defense complements second-half escape

Aside from Watson’s game-winning performance, Iowa State kept control in the second half due to its staple defense that has put Big 12 teams on their heels. The same was true for the Sooners, as even with Iowa State failing to find consistency on offense, they did not do any better.

When Otzelberger saw how cold each team was from the field in the first half, he knew what he needed to focus on in the final 20 minutes to walk out with the win.

“It was kind of like one of those old-fashioned let’s just win this thing with our defense and the offense will hopefully come at some point,” Otzelberger said. “I think it was our best 40-minute defensive effort of the season.”

Due to Iowa State’s constant ball pressure down the stretch, Oklahoma failed to string together its offense and find open shooters. Oklahoma attempted seven fewer shots than the Cyclones in the second half and struggled to match Iowa State’s newly found offensive swing in the closing half.

The Cyclones stuck with what they knew best, and while they were not forcing nearly as many turnovers as they are used to, they still disrupted Oklahoma’s offense throughout the game.

“Just getting those stops is big and relieves our pressure on offense so obviously we don’t get down big,” Jones said.

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