Iowa State University Cyclones guard Jaren Holmes (13) looks for a shot around Oklahoma Sooners’ guard Milos Uzan (12), Oklahoma Sooners’ forward/center Tanner Groves (35), and Oklahoma Sooners’ guard Otega Oweh (3) during the first half at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. d
AMES — Robert Jones soared in for the putback dunk.
The slam gave Iowa State a 14-3 lead on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. It had immediately followed a pair of possessions that ended with made jumpers from Gabe Kalscheur and Caleb Grill.
The vibes were good with 12:53 left in the first half. Morale was high for the folks in cardinal and gold. Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser needed a timeout.
Those vibes did not last, and morale has since cratered.
Iowa State surrendered another double-digit lead on their way to a 61-50 loss to Big 12 basement-dweller Oklahoma in its second-to-last home game of the season.
“For our guys, our team, having more personal pride is really important,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We talked about that a lot in the locker room. We respect every team we play, especially in this league. Everybody is good. It’s more about us having the pride to play hard every possession. Having the pride to finish plays. Having the pride to bring tremendous effort every single possession. They did a great job. Certainly weathered the storm at the beginning of the first half. We just have to have more pride in what we do.”
There were a lot of things that went wrong for Iowa State as they were outscored 58-36 the rest of the way after their hot start.
The Sooners turned the ball over four times in the first five minutes of the game and 10 times in the first half. They missed their first five shots as Iowa State’s defensive aggression and physicality allowed the Cyclones to bully their way to an early lead.
The aggression and physicality did not last, though, and it has to leave one wondering what has gone wrong with this Iowa State team in recent weeks. The issues that popped up in their loss to Oklahoma State two weeks ago popped up again on Saturday against the Sooners.
The defensive aggression and physicality, what this program hangs its hat on, was essentially non-existent for the second half as Oklahoma knocked down 7-of-13 shots from 3-point range and diced up the Cyclone defense possession after possession.
Nothing came easy for Oklahoma until it did.
Once it did, it can be attributed to some of the best halfcourt offensive execution Iowa State has faced this season.
The Sooners were electric with their ability to find and complete the skip pass to the backside of Iowa State’s defense where the goalie defender vacates hard toward the middle of the paint on a drive or post touch.
That execution played a significant role in Oklahoma’s Jacob Groves scoring a game-high 16 points and going 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
If it wasn’t Groves knocking down shots from deep, it was one of Oklahoma’s slashers attacking the rim for wide-open dunks behind Iowa State’s crashing help defender.
If it wasn’t one of those two things, it was OU point guard Milos Uzan penetrating and collapsing the defense just to dump it off to Tanner Groves or Sam Godwin for, again, a dunk.
Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the fact a team knocked down nearly every one of the shots you’re willing to give up to them. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to great execution. Sometimes you have to tip your cap when someone knocks down a desperation 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.
All of those things happened against Iowa State on Saturday, and thus, I tip my cap to the Sooners.
“They did a good job of throwing those skip passes and taking advantage of our goalie spot,” Iowa State freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey said. “They knew we were going to bring help and guard the baseline. They were taking advantage of that cutting inside and getting open layups and threes. We just have to be more aggressive, be more physical so they can’t make those easy passes that led to a lot of open rhythm threes for them.”
Offensively, this might have been one of the most disappointing performances of Iowa State’s season. The Cyclones shot just 31 percent from the field, 26.7 percent from deep and 58.8 percent from the foul line. Iowa State made only 11-of-28 shots inside the painted area. They were an abysmal 14-of-43 on all 2-pointers.
The Cyclones’ effective field goal percentage (which differs from traditional field goal percentage in the fact it weights for shot types) was a mere 34 percent, which is 16 points below their season average and would stand firmly as the worst mark by any team in the country if stretched across an entire season.
Iowa State couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and that impacted nearly every area of their game.
“We had a lot of (open looks) early,” Otzelberger said. “We were up 14-3 and still probably left five or six layups on the table that we need to convert. It’s an entirely different feel to the game. Our guys are different. We had a lot of looks at the rim, a lot of looks in the paint, things we work at on a daily basis. We need to demand that we finish those plays and come away with those points.”
The most concerning things about Iowa State’s offense right now to me are twofold. One, there has been a significant decrease in the amount of off-ball movement. Two, there has been a significant change in shot selection as the season has progressed.
The first piece of that — the off-ball movement — can be attributed on some level to the way teams are defending Iowa State. They’re using more pressure, both on and off the ball, to force the Cyclones to beat them off the bounce.
Iowa State’s team is not built to beat people off the bounce, but there comes a point in college basketball where someone just has to be able to do it otherwise you’re in serious trouble.
Iowa State, I’m afraid after Saturday, might be in some serious trouble.
“People are pressuring us more and trying to make us beat them off the dribble and play for one another off the dribble,” Otzelberger said. “We haven’t done a great job of doing that. We have to be better when people pressure us with more attacking.”
Movement without the ball and constant movement of the ball with the pass is what made Iowa State such a difficult team to guard during the first half of Big 12 play.
The Cyclones run their stuff well and are able to move the ball around the perimeter within the structure of their motion offense with the best of them. They can struggle at times to make shots off what they’re creating, but they’re as good as anyone at using the shot clock and shortening the game by holding onto the ball when they’re clicking.
Remember, that is literally the way Iowa State wants to play. It might not be the most dynamic style of basketball to watch, but it can win you a lot of basketball games if done effectively.
“They’re so active. Their ball movement is elite,” Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser said of Iowa State. “You can’t rest. I think sometimes we’ve fallen into resting on defense and you can’t against them.”
The issues arise when someone either starts standing around or starts going rogue. Both of those things seem to be happening at times right now.
Shot selection has become a concern with way too many contested jumpers going up early in the shot clock. Waaaaaaay too many contested jumpers early in the shot clock.
Gabe Kalscheur, Jaren Holmes and Caleb Grill are often the biggest culprits in this scenario. One or two contested tough shots from one of those guys early in the shot clock aren’t a bad thing. It means they’re being aggressive.
The majority of your shots being of that variety is a problem, and all three of those guys have been taking a lot of really tough shots when they’ve been on the floor.
“We’ve gotta do a better job as a unit of playing together,” Otzelberger said. “When we’ve been at our best, it’s been everybody moving and sharing the basketball and it’s a time of the year, especially for some of our older guys, we just need to step up and make plays. We need to finish plays at the rim. We need to take great shots.”
The good thing is creating movement off the ball and taking smarter shots are things that can be corrected in practice and ahead of the postseason starting in a little more than a week.
They both require a commitment to playing Iowa State’s style of ball, though. It’s no different than the way Iowa State wants to defend on a nightly basis.
You’re either in or you’re out. There is no in-between.
“Our guys are certainly disappointed in what happened,” Otzelberger said. “You don’t ever want to play like that, especially at home in front of our fans. You want to have a lot more pride.”