Defensive performance elevates Iowa State to third 10-0 start

Iowa State started off its game against Jackson State on Sunday with a 19-4 run, but 30 seconds into the second half, the lead was just six points.

It stayed close enough to make fans of the No. 17 Cyclone uncomfortable throughout the game, but the team closed out the 47-37 win to improve to 10-0.

“Look that certainly wasn’t the game, offensively, that we hoped it would be, and at the same time how we built momentum and our habits were in our defense and our rebounding,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We counted on those habits and they showed up for us.”

Along with holding the Tigers to just 37 points, Iowa State forced 22 turnovers through the game.

At one point, the Cyclones recorded 14 consecutive stops on defense.

This is the type of stuff Otzelberger is stressing when he mentions ‘habits.’

“We’re not going to apologize or worry about things that didn’t go right offensively,” Otzelberger said. “We’re going to focus more on what we did great defensively. Look for our guys, it’s been a lot of games coming at us. Sometimes you know when your guys need a day off. We had two great days of practice but (Sunday) it just didn’t look like our guys had the same hop in their step.”

Nonetheless, Iowa State escaped and for the third time in school history, the team has started a season with double-digit wins and no losses. This is the first Iowa State team to accomplish that feat since the 2013-14 squad led by Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane started the year 14-0.

Aljaz Kunc led the Cyclones in scoring on Sunday with 12 points while Gabe Kalscheur added 11. Izaiah Brockington nearly snagged another double-double with nine points and seven rebounds.

“We just have to go and get great shots,” Kunc said. “I think we did a decent job of getting into the paint. We just have to execute once we get there.”

Kunc, a senior transfer from Washington State, can sometimes provide a spark for Iowa State’s offense.

He’s often utilized as a sort of wake-up call or an alarm that the team is in the game following an open 3-pointer that goes in with ease from the 6-foot-8 big man.

Kunc did what he could on Sunday, but it was evident that the most recent stretch of games weighed on the Cyclones physically.

“He’s got such a poise and a maturity to him,” Otzelberger said. “He’s an older player and he plays like an older player – he’s a veteran. He’s come in and obviously made some timely shots, but more than that, like his intelligence defensively (is great).”

It would be easy for Otzelberger to be disappointed with how his team played like he was following the 19-point win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

He had a different approach on Sunday because of those habits he talks about on the defensive side of the game.

“It’s about self-awareness and knowing who we are and who we could be,” Otzelberger said. “As much as I know that with young people – when they don’t see the shot going through the basket, or they don’t have the same flow or eb that they usually have on offense, it absolutely has a mental effect on your team. Yet, our guys were able to dig in and get stops.”

Iowa State will have the next week off for final exams, before returning to the court on Sunday December 19 to face Southeastern Louisiana (Noon CT ESPN+).

His team will get a break from the grind, but they’ll return to the court for two games in three days. As long as the defensive habits come with them, Otzelberger will remain happy.

“The effort-based things we emphasize every day may not have looked the same, but they still showed up for us,” Otzelberger said. “I’m confident in how this will go for us, but we can’t deviate from them. We’re a defense-toughness-hustle-take charges-rebounding group – the offense will come.”