AMES — It does not take long to flip a script.
Just days after one of its worst losses of the season on Saturday against Oklahoma State, Iowa State flipped the script on Wednesday with a wire-to-wire 70-59 win over TCU at Hilton Coliseum.
The Cyclones took the lead just 25 seconds into the game. Roughly five minutes later, Iowa State had a 15-2 lead. The Horned Frogs answered with a 12-0 run to pull back within one.
Iowa State answered by scoring eight straight to push the lead back to nine.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Iowa State held a 21-point lead. Every Iowa State fan was surely feeling anxiety when the Frogs clawed their way back within seven points with 51 seconds left.
But, remember, this was a different kind of script than what we’ve been used to over the last few weeks. Iowa State made the plays it needed to when it needed to make them.
Now, Iowa State has eight league wins for the first time since going 9-9 in 2018-19. They’re two wins away from their first 10-plus league-win season since 2016-17.
“Where I gauge it is how we start games defensively, and then how we start the half,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger. “That’s what we work on a lot and talk about a lot. We set the tone and I felt like starting the game we had some turnovers, and then really coming out of halftime that’s something we hadn’t done as well. We’ve more traded baskets with people and for them to score two points, for us to start with three stops or whatever it was., and have that two points speaks to being focused, being intentional in dictating things defensively.”
The reasons Iowa State won this game aren’t very hard to point out.
After shooting worse than 40 percent from the free throw line against Oklahoma State, the Cyclones knocked down 15-of-17 attempts from the charity stripe against TCU. There were five Cyclones who shot two or more freebies without a miss.
Meanwhile, TCU went 6-of-18 from the free throw line on its end, an output closer to what you’d expect to see from this Iowa State team in recent weeks.
“Proves its importance when you look at the free throw line and you see they made theirs and we didn’t make ours,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “Simply put, there’s the difference.”
Aljaz Kunc played one of the best games of his Iowa State career, posting a career-high 22 points on 7-of-10 from the field, 5-of-8 from 3-point range and 3-of-3 from the free throw line while grabbing five rebounds, two steals and dishing one assist.
Kunc, who was in the starting lineup for the first time since before a hand injury held him out of action for more than a month, knocked down Iowa State’s first shot of the game off an assist from Osun Osunniyi.
The senior forward had the assist on Iowa State’s last basket, too, a layup by Jaren Holmes, who scored 16 points on 6-of-15 from the field, after a steal to seal the win.
“Man, (Kunc) stepped up in a major way,” Otzelberger said. “Offensively, he was so effective. He’s just a winning player, man. You just have them out there, and you can just tell the ball moves better. He just understands how to play, and what we need from him. Defensively and on the glass, he just does such a great job, too. It’s great to see him back playing the way that we know he can play and it gives us another weapon offensively to take some pressure or responsibility from other guys where we can get a little bit more balance.”
Iowa State forced TCU into 14 turnovers and held the Frogs, who were playing without Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year guard Mike Miles, to just 5-of-19 from 3-point range on the night.
This was the kind of night Iowa State needed.
Morale had been low over the last week with last Wednesday’s somewhat controversial loss to West Virginia then Saturday’s frustrating loss to Oklahoma State. It felt as though this team had lost sight of who they are.
They flipped the script and found themselves again on Wednesday.
“How we responded to (adversity) was important and should give our guys confidence moving forward, because we’re going to have adversity,” Otzelberger said. “We’re going to have challenges. It’s why we preach a lot about that mental toughness and how we respond to things when they don’t go your way.”