‘I want urgency’: Cyclones collapse against Wildcats, drop to 3-9 in Big 12


Collin Maguire/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State guard Caleb Grill scores on a fast-break layup in the Cyclones’ win over Kansas State on Feb. 12.

Matt Belinson

AMES — Backed into a corner and in need of a win, Iowa State men’s basketball seemed ready to get back on track over Kansas State.

The Cyclones walked into halftime leading by 12 thanks to hot shooting from Aljaz Kunc in his new role in the starting lineup. Shortly out of the break, the advantage increased to 15 with 19 minutes left.

But the Cyclones, facing a must-win scenario in their return to Hilton Coliseum, fell 75-69 to drop to 3-9 in the Big 12.

Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger called it a gut-punch.

Metaphorical punch or not, the Cyclones are now 3-9 in the Big 12 and have six games left to try and salvage a run at the NCAA Tournament.

“They wanted to win more than we wanted to win. That’s something everyone in our program and on our team has to swallow and live with,” Otzelberger said postgame.

“Our backs couldn’t be more against the wall.”

Iowa State started about as good as its been all season for much of the first half, walking into halftime up 40-28 on 52 percent shooting while holding a 18-4 edge in the paint.

But then came the collapse — a second half where Izaiah Brockington saw the Cyclones get out-worked on their home court.

Iowa State shot a combined 11-35 in the second half and overtime and was outscored 47-29 in the two periods.

The Cyclones had three turnovers at halftime but proceeded to cough it up nine times the rest of the way.

Brockington, who returned to form with 27 points on 11-17 shooting, stared forward in frustration for most of his postgame presser. He gave a similar style of answer to how the Cyclones can fix their glaring issues — highlighting the small plays and ball toughness.

But words are one thing. And Brockington said it’s going to take all nine Cyclones to want to win and want to see things fixed.

“It’s going to take all of us really buying in, buckling down,” Brockington said.

Otzelberger’s coaching tenure has been lined with buzzwords and simple principles, giving Iowa State a formula for how to win. Otzelberger has preached ball toughness, stubborn defense and fight all season and said the Cyclones have no choice now but to follow that guide as the final stretch of games begins.

But Saturday’s postgame presser featured one word more than any other: urgency.

Kunc, who finished with 19 points on 6-12 shooting (5-9 from three), said after the loss Iowa State needs to find itself again and return to practice hungry and responsive to their old habits that gave them a 12-0 start.

In the aftermath of the loss, Kunc said Iowa State’s first half was good to see but can’t be counted as a success given the final result.

“There’s no such thing as close in basketball,” Kunc said. “You either win or lose.”

Iowa State lacked passion and a desire to win in Otzelberger’s assessment, despite the clear direction a loss would bring on Saturday.

In preparation for Saturday’s must-win game, the Cyclones openly discussed the NCAA Tournament and what it would take to get there over the last month. The math was too obvious to ignore and Iowa State knew Saturday could have been a start to getting back to that level.

But with a 3-9 league record, Otzelberger said he needs determined players with a willingness to fight for what’s left.

There can’t be sugar-coating any more.

“We are in a position where I’m looking for guys who have the most urgency. And that’s how they walk into a room, how they stretch for practice, how they block out, how they dive for a loose ball,” Otzelberger said.

“I want urgency. I want guys that want to win.”

Iowa State returns to the court Tuesday at Fort Worth to take on TCU.