Iowa State working to not hurt itself in West Virginia rematch


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State senior guard Gabe Kalscheur looks to pass the ball against the University of Oklahoma on Feb. 19

Matt Belinson

Oh, how the tables have turned.

The last time Iowa State men’s basketball faced the West Virginia Mountaineers, it turned out to be a case of role reversal in Morgantown, W.VA.

West Virginia sat last in the Big 12 and had lost seven straight as they welcomed the Cyclones to their home court. But the slide stopped for West Virginia, at least for a moment, as it defeated the Cyclones 79-63.

Flash forward to the final full week of February, and the Mountaineers have slid even further into the bottom of the Big 12 standings, while the Cyclones have breathed new life into their NCAA Tournament hopes.

And while confidence has returned for T.J. Otzelberger and his group, the 13-point loss to the Mountaineers still rings fresh in their heads ahead of Wednesday’s tilt at Hilton Coliseum.

What does Otzelberger want to see changed from his team’s Feb. 8 loss? The first answer is an obvious one.

“The outcome,” Otzelberger said when asked what he wants to see change from the Feb. 8 loss. “And I’d say to change the outcome, we can’t do things to hurt ourselves. We started down. It went turnover, three, turnover, three and before you know it we’re down 18-5 and really we’re never in the game.”

The Cyclones gave the last-place Mountaineers energy in their previous meeting in early February, allowing West Virginia to build an 18–5 lead less than eight minutes into the game.

Iowa State trailed all game and scratched and clawed back but never enough to win. 

Everything that could go wrong for Iowa State seemingly did in Morgantown:

  • Izaiah Brockington didn’t score for the first 10 minutes of the game and finished with 11 points on 4-12 shooting
  • The Cyclones shot 7-25 from three
  • Gabe Kalscheur, one of Iowa State’s best defenders, fouled out
  • West Virginia, who came in as the worst three-point shooting team in the Big 12, went 10-20 from deep

Even the easy scoring chances weren’t capitalized on by Iowa State.

The Cyclones went 12-22 from the foul line, good for the second-most attempts in Big 12 play. And while offense was a struggle for the entire game, the free throw problems never allowed the Cyclones to take advantage of opportunities when momentum could have been taken.

In games where the Cyclones shoot 20 or more free throws, they only shoot 72 percent from the line and miss an average of seven free throws in those games. 

Iowa State is shooting 68.96 percent from the free-throw line, which ranks 253rd in the country. In Big 12 play, it gets worse, with the Cyclones making their free throws at a 67 percent clip in league games (132-197).

“It’s like everything, it’s the work and the time that you put in. And then it’s trusting that work and having that confidence in the moment,” Otzelberger said about free-throw issues.

“If you want to perform better in big moments, then you need to work harder when nobody’s watching.”

With the Mountaineers desperate for a win, Otzelberger said Iowa State couldn’t hurt itself like it did in the Feb. 8 matchup. West Virginia, like most teams where the losses are piling up, feeds off energy plays and any crack in the armor of its opponent.

For Otzelberger, Wednesday is about dictating on both ends and playing fast and with toughness.

Iowa State has to cut harder, pass the ball quicker and with intentionality and speed the Mountaineers up into uncomfortable situations. 

If the Cyclones can do that, Otzelberger feels good about his team’s chances of winning their third game in a row.

“If we do our job, it’ll help lead us to being successful,” Otzelberger said. “And right now we’re telling our guys to focus on winning that next possessions, whether that’s offensively or defensively and that was something we didn’t do a very good job of in Morgantown, and probably was as poor of a game as we’ve played.”

Iowa State (18-9, 5-9 Big 12) and West Virginia (14-12 overall, 3-10 Big 12) tip at 6 p.m. Wednesday on ESPNU.