STANZ: Iowa State’s roller-coaster season continues with home loss to Oklahoma State

Mar 2, 2022; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Aljaz Kunc (5) has his shot blocked from Oklahoma State Cowboys forward Tyreek Smith (23) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Cowboys beat the Cyclones 53 to 36. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Welcome to the roller coaster that is Iowa State men’s basketball in 2022.

Fresh off the program’s first four-game Big 12 winning streak since 2016, the Cyclones laid an egg on Wednesday in their home finale at Hilton Coliseum.

Oklahoma State punked the home team by a final score of 53-36.

It was a truly unacceptable effort from a team that seemingly locked in its spot in the NCAA Tournament with Saturday’s win over Kansas State. It was an embarrassing performance from a team that prides itself on toughness and intensity.

The defense was good enough to hold the Cowboys 16.5 points under their season average, but that was more or less the only positive to take away from this 40 minutes of basketball.

Iowa State didn’t shoot, dribble, pass or catch the ball well.

The Cyclones were so discombobulated offensively they were throwing five-foot passes at each other’s feet, passing up open looks when they had them and thinking too much about nearly every move they tried to make against OSU’s myriad of defenses.

Just when it seemed like this team had figured some things out and was trending back in a significantly positive direction, they set a new floor for how bad their offense can be when opponents keep them out of their stuff.

“We were definitely out of character tonight,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Didn’t have the chip on our shoulder we need to have. Didn’t play with the toughness, the physical effort, the want to, that we’ve developed our identity around, and we’re not a good enough team to just show up and think that teams are just gonna let us get the victory.”

Some of the credit for this performance certainly goes to an Oklahoma State team that has nothing to play for at this point but looked like they were playing for their lives.

The Cowboys were playing for pride. The Cyclones looked like they were playing because the game was on the schedule.

There is no other explanation for this team to shoot 15-of-53 from the field, 2-of-17 from 3-point range and 4-of-10 from the free-throw line. Iowa State was out-rebounded by 18 and turned the ball over 16 times.

Despite forcing 22 Oklahoma State turnovers, the Cyclones scored just six points off those giveaways. This can partially be attributed to the fact the Cowboys could hardly catch the ball either and let it fumble out of bounds roughly a zillion times, but OSU still turned Iowa State’s 16 turnovers into 17 points despite the Cyclones struggling with some of the same catching problems.

I can’t believe I just wrote that much about two Power 5 teams failing to catch the basketball, but that’s the kind of basketball game this was. There wasn’t anything pretty about it and that’s why the team that wanted it more was going to come away with the win.

One would think the team that wanted it more would be the group with something to play for, but that was clearly far from the case.

One team looked like they were playing out the rest of their schedule. The other looked like they were putting forth their best impression for the NCAA Tournament committee.

Unfortunately, the team that put forth their best impression is not eligible to play past the end of this week.

“They really wanted to win and their spirit was a lot better than ours,” Otzelberger said. “That’s very humbling to admit.”

Teams playing zone against Iowa State, packing the paint and daring them to shoot over the top has been one of my biggest potential concerns this entire season.

It popped up several times during non-conference play and it was rarely handled well even against lesser competition. It took 16 games for someone in the Big 12 to finally deploy that strategy and we found out exactly why that was so concerning.

Every player on the floor for Iowa State looked uncomfortable doing quite literally everything.

Nobody was overly eager to attack the Oklahoma State big men who spent the majority of the game with their heads parked squarely under the rim.

Nobody looked like they were seeing the defense well enough to make effective passes.

Nobody handled the constant reaching by OSU’s guards.

Nobody seemed ready to take good confident shots from the perimeter when presented.

Instead, they missed shot-after-shot at the rim, passed up numerous open looks, but took bad shots when they weren’t open and turned the ball over time after time by dribbling themselves into bad situations.

They didn’t look comfortable and they didn’t look ready to play.

“We were prepared, we practiced for it,” Otzelberger said. “We knew that last time we played them down there, we were able to get what we wanted against their man defense, especially late. They wanted to disrupt us and they did that.”

There is no simple on-court answer to so many of these issues. It is possible there were guys on the bench who would have handled Oklahoma State’s wrinkles better, but I haven’t seen enough from any of those guys this season to feel confident in saying that would be the case.

This was a performance that should prompt these Cyclones to look in the mirror and contemplate how they’re preparing themselves for games mentally.

Maybe this group got too comfortable knowing its ticket to the big dance was likely punched. Maybe they were too confident in their offensive ability after they scored 84 points on this same Cowboy team last month.

Whatever it was, it was not a winning mentality and it led to only losing basketball.

This was not the kind of performance you expect to see from a team that is guaranteed to play postseason basketball. They didn’t look hungry to prove themselves in a one-and-done setting.

They looked complacent and timid. Those two components mixing together again will make this program’s return to the postseason a short one.

Nobody should bury the tape, it should be played on a loop inside the Sukup Basketball Facility until these guys get tired of seeing it. They should use it as fuel to be the team they’ve been for long stretches this season.

It should be used to motivate them to make this a blip on the radar rather than the thing that ends their season in a prompt fashion.

“We just got to be more intentional and more stubborn,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve got to be much better than that.”

This was a mess around and find out type of performance. They had a few of those during their 4-9 stretch through January and early February when they deviated from their plan and found out how fast it can collapse, but it felt as though they had gotten over the find out period and moved into the growth phase that follows learning lessons.

They’d just seen their plan and playing to their identity carry them to four-straight wins against solid teams.

Mess around with your approach and you’re going to find out what happens.

Roller coasters always go up, but they go down way faster.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.