Three Big Takeaways: Adjustments, strong first half was not enough


Collin Maguire/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State forward Aljaz Kunc shoots a three-pointer in the Cyclones v. Kansas State game on Feb. 12.

James Powell

Coming into Saturday’s game against Kansas State, it was clear things would look different for Iowa State men’s basketball. It’s not like the Cyclones had much of a choice.

They had lost three games in a row, all in a similar fashion. The offense was dreadful at times. Iowa State’s defense allowed enough lapses to put itself in desperation mode entering the game against Kansas State.

That desperation showed itself before the game even started. The first half was eloquent, but the Cyclone second-half collapse dropped them to 3-9 in Big 12 play in a 75-69 overtime loss.

Lineup and rotation changes provide spark

T.J. Otzelberger alluded to alterations in preparation for the game against the Wildcats.

Lineup changes seemed imminent, and the usual minutes game-to-game for each player were bound to change as well.

It began in the starting-five, as Tristan Enaruna was removed from the starting lineup in favor of Aljaz Kunc. It was Kunc’s first start of the season, as Enaruna had started all 24 games coming into Saturday.

Kunc immediately reaped the benefits of the starting nod, as he erupted for the first eight Cyclone points, making two threes and getting the crowd on their feet early.

In total, it was a 16-point first half for Kunc on 5-7 shooting, making all four of his three-point attempts. It led to a strong half for Iowa State, putting up its most points in a half (40) since the second half of the Jan. 15 tilt against Texas.

It wasn’t just a direct Kunc to Enaruna swap that Otzelberger used to gain some momentum.

Jaden Walker saw his earliest minutes of perhaps the whole season, and there were shorter stints for all players as Otzelberger tried to keep his players fresh through the first 20 minutes.

In terms of who paid the price for the new lineup changes, Enaruna did not see the floor Saturday- the first time this season for the Kansas transfer.

After not playing against West Virginia, Tre Jackson saw just nine minutes of playing time, and Robert Jones had just three minutes. It was Jones’ lowest amount of minutes since Big 12 play began.

“Obviously [Kunc] making shots, spacing the floor opened things up,” Otzelberger said of his new plan of attack. “It was good. George [Conditt] had a good game.”

“I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘hey, let’s change a lineup and this is a quick fix, we are in a position where I’m looking for the guys who have the most urgency,” Otzelberger added.

Complete game from Conditt

The aforementioned Conditt did have what was perhaps his best game of the season Saturday. At the very least, it was the most well-rounded effort Otzelberger has gotten out of his starting center in some time.

Conditt had seven points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and a steal in his 27 minutes. Pair that with only picking up two personal fouls, and he was able to be on the floor more often, and much more effective in those minutes.

It was a career-high in assists for Conditt and his play-making efforts are surely welcomed by Otzelberger, who has frequently run his offense through his post players at the top of the key on dribble hand-offs.

Not only did he make a direct impact in the game, but it was Conditt who was often seen waving his hands, urging the Hilton Coliseum crowd to get loud and try and support his team as they attempted to hang on for the victory.

Where to go from here?

It was no secret that any sort of climb back into NCAA tournament contention would mean having a good showing against Kansas State.

There are some quality wins already in hand for the Cyclones, but going 3-9 in any conference isn’t going to get you far in postseason conversations. Otzelberger and his group know it too.

Now, there are six games left, including three at home against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Otzelberger and his players vowed to defend home-court coming into Saturday and long before, and so far, those vows have been broken.

It’s do-or-die time for Iowa State.

Not just in terms of meaningful March basketball. Otzelberger believes it’s just as important for his team to show fight and resilience as the end of the season draws near.

“Our backs couldn’t be more against the wall,” Otzelberger said. “We’re going to lead in such a way that we have an unrelenting competitive spirit and fight, and we come back stronger. That’s the only thing we’re going to accept and tolerate from the young men in our program.”