Cyclones consistent defensive pressure keeps them afloat in Allen Fieldhouse thriller


Collin Maguire/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State freshman guard Tyrese Hunter scores a layup in transition against the University of Kansas on Jan. 11 in Allen Fieldhouse.

James Powell

The Cyclones are really good at turning people over. That much has been clear through the first 16 games of the season.

More often than not, it has been a hustle play leading to an easy bucket to gain Iowa State some momentum in the early stages of their 13-3 campaign. They’ve hung their hats on ball pressure and toughness. Thrived off of the little things.

That much was more than true as the No. 15 Cyclones traveled into the “Phog” to take on the No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday.

T.J. Otzelberger’s team turned the Jayhawks over 10 times in the first half and it led them to 17 points off those turnovers. The Cyclones scored 33 points through 20 minutes, meaning that over half their points came off the ball pressure and toughness that Otzelberger has preached each and every day since he signed on as head coach.

Those 17 points included some fast-break lay-ups, others allowed the Cyclones to get numbers into the front-court and caused Kansas to scramble on the defensive end.

It’s what kept them in the game, at least through the first half. The second half featured more Jayhawk pressure on the Cyclone offense, and it led to Iowa State making some sloppy mistakes of their own.

As the Cyclones found their footing in a hostile environment, Otzelberger said that their transition offense helped them hang around early.

“When you can get those easy baskets off your defense, and I say easy, but finishing in traffic and keeping the ball moving, it gives you that confidence offensively… it allowed us to have some plays in the open court and transition where we were effective.”

It felt like most of those aforementioned baskets came from Tyrese Hunter. Hunter had nine points in the first half and was able to leak out in transition enough to get his team those “easy” baskets, as Otzelberger said.

Hunter, a true freshman, delivered a spark needed to keep his team in the game through the first half while they found a rhythm in Allen Fieldhouse.

The second half, however, was a different story. Kansas had just six second-half turnovers and it only led to nine points for the Cyclones. More than that, the Jayhawks had 10 points of their own from forcing turnovers. It’s what allowed them to work their way to a nine-point lead at multiple times during the second half.

Iowa State faced more pressure on offense than they did in the first half, and Izaiah Brockington believes it led his team to make some necessary adjustments of their own.

“They started denying a little bit more, so we had to run some different things and run through our stuff harder taking that into account, really getting open and getting to the spots we wanted to get to.”

A fairly common theme that has led Otzelberger and his team to surprising levels of success is making a point to out-hustle whoever it is they’re playing and let that lead them to momentum-changing plays that sometimes don’t even include offense.

Something as simple as diving on the floor or causing a back-court violation have gotten the Cyclones’ home crowds back into games, as well as help the players themselves generate some good, open looks in transition.

In this game, it was an over-and-back call on Kansas guard Dajuan Harris with four minutes remaining. Up to that point, Iowa State was stagnant in terms of keeping it close, but never closing the gap enough to make Kansas sweat.

After that turnover, Iowa State finally clawed back to within four, and that deficit held until Gabe Kalscheur hit a deep shot to pull within one in the closing minutes.

This time, it didn’t result in a win as it so often has for the Cyclones to start the season. But their defense led to offense in the first half and their never-ending commitment to making opponents uncomfortable eventually allowed them to claw their way back. This time, it resulted in heartbreak rather than celebration.