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Three Big Takeaways: Iowa State destroys Houston to earn Big 12 title

Jacob Rice
Robert Jones holds his hand like a phone after scoring during the men’s basketball Big 12 Championship game against Houston, T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, March 16, 2024.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Cyclones powered past Houston in the most dominant fashion they could, taking the Big 12 title after a 69-41 win.

What started as a back-and-forth game early on quickly turned into a one-sided slaughter on Iowa State’s part. By the midway point in the second half, Iowa State had put the game out of reach as the lead grew to 30 points.

Iowa State’s hot night from beyond the arc that started against Baylor carried over against Houston as shots fell with ease. It all started in the first half on the defensive side of the ball.

Iowa State out-defends Houston

Going into the game, Iowa State and Houston mirrored each other. The game was going to come down to which defense performed better.

At the end of the night, it was Iowa State.

“[We] came out and we dominated them, honestly,” Milan Momcilovic said.

The game was extremely physical early on. Whenever Iowa State built a small lead, Houston punched back.

The gameplan throughout was not letting that lead slip. Fighting an uphill battle would not be an ideal way to tackle Houston.

“It’s hard to come from behind [against] a team like them,” Curtis Jones said.

Luckily for the Cyclones, they fended off Houston to enter the half with a lead. Along with that, Houston entered the half scoring less than 25 points.

It would be a long time before Houston reached that 25-mark. Iowa State’s defense kept the Cyclones in the game, and with the offense clicking, Houston sank deeper and deeper.

Over three minutes into the second half, Houston had still not put a point on the board.

Over 10 minutes in, Houston only scored five more points.

Houston was shooting 10-for-43 from the field and 3-for-18 from deep at the midway point in the second. By the time Houston hit 30 points, the game was nearly over. Iowa State had doubled Houston’s points.

With five minutes left in the game, Houston had scored just nine points the entire second half.

“I feel like we had them on their heels for most of the game,” Jones said. “That was crazy to see, because they’re not a bad offensive team either. I think they’re still like a top-25 offense.”

Threes continue to rain down

With Houston failing to put points on the board, Iowa State took full advantage early on. Iowa State started the game knocking down over 50% from deep, which built its lead early.

The second half saw the offense explode even more.

Momcilovic was knocking down throughout the game, but his biggest shot came early in the second half.

With 13 minutes left in the game, Momcilovic caught a pass in the corner. Instantly, a Houston defender beared down on him.

“He was running at me with a long closeout. I passed on the shot, and I think he kinda fell a little bit,” Momcilovic said.

Momcilovic spun away from him, stepped to the side and put a quick shot from the edge of the corner.


Iowa State was up by 22 points, and all hope that Houston had was lost.

Milan Momcilovic makes a three pointer at the men’s basketball Big 12 Championship game against Houston, T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, March 16, 2024.

“We’ve been really good defensively throughout the course of the year, but to see us take the steps we have offensively, it is truly special,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “You hear it all the time, that you want to be playing your best basketball at this time of the year. I don’t think there’s any question that that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

At the midway point in the second half, Iowa State was shooting 50% from deep.

Knocking shots down at a high rate against a defense like Houston was unexpected but welcomed. The No. 1 defense in the country crumbled by the hands of Iowa State’s shooters.

“It’s easy to have a plan, but as gifted as their team is, as connected as they are, as well-coached as they are, there’s not many nights where your team shoots 50% from the field and assist-to-turnover is 2-1,” Otzelberger said.

Keshon Gilbert awarded the MOP

After a pair of nights lighting up the floor, Gilbert completed his three-peat by putting up 16 points against Houston.

The second half was decided from the opening minutes. Iowa State opened the second half on a 7-0 run to take a 14-point lead thanks to Gilbert.

Tamin Lipsey stole an inbound from Houston then passed it in the lane to Gilbert on the fastbreak. Gilbert finished the play with a shifty move under the basket.

On the next possession, Gilbert hucked up a contested three that fell through the net. Iowa State was up 14 as Houston was forced to call a timeout.

“It was really important that we was able to go on a run first and then put the game away from there,” Jones said.

Not only was Gilbert’s run influential to the final outcome, he was feeding passes inside to keep the offense moving.

With eight minutes to play, Gilbert found Watson on one possession for a dunk and then fed Lipsey on the next.

As Lipsey finished the play, Houston called a timeout and T-Mobile Center exploded with cheers. Iowa State was up by 26 points with Houston sitting at 28.

Just 30 seconds later, Gilbert knocked down two free throws to give the Cyclones twice as many points as Houston.

Gilbert’s efforts helped the Cyclones power past Houston. After leading Iowa State on the offensive end in all three games, Gilbert was honored with the Most Outstanding Player award.

As Gilbert stood on the podium after the confetti fell, he held tight to his championship belt. The smile across his face did not fade once.

“I’ve been working for a long time. I just been wondering when it’s gonna pay off, and it finally paid off today,” Gilbert said.

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