Iowa State lacks free throws, can’t complete comeback in loss to Virginia Tech

Nov 24, 2023; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies guard Sean Pedulla (3) shoots the ball against the Iowa State Cyclones in the first half during the ESPN Events Invitational Semifinal at State Farm Field House. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State missed 11 free throws in its 71-62 loss to Virginia Tech in the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational on Friday.

The 15-26 mark from the charity stripe included four missed free throws on the front ends of one-and-ones

“Definitely the foul line was a factor,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said on the Varsity Network postgame show. “We work on them every day. We chart them every day. So we have confidence that we can do it. We got in a lot of reps today at game day practice – I think it’s just staying locked into that moment, mentally, regardless of what’s going on… and there was a lot of times there in that second half when you’re at the front end and you can’t come away with it.”

Along with the struggles at the line, Iowa State allowed Virginia Tech to score eight 3-pointers during the first half of the game.

The Hokies, at one point, led by 12 points, just before Rob Jones cut the deficit to 10 right before the half.

It’s the second-straight game the team has found itself behind by double digits.

“We can’t put ourselves in such a deficit,” Otzelberger said. “It felt like when we started the game, we weren’t as locked in defensively as we needed to be. We really preach that we come out and get to a fast start. We were just a step slow behind some plays that allowed them to get in a rhythm and hit eight threes in the first half.”

“How we started the second half and how we played in the second half – that’s how we need to play the game,” Otzelberger said.

Milan Momcilovic provided Iowa State with an offensive bright spot, scoring 21 points with three triples and finishing 70 percent for the game.

The rest of the squad combined for just two three’s for a combined 2-16 line.

“(Momcilovic) did a great job, especially in the first half,” Otzelberger said. “He really carried us scoring when we were struggling. I felt like he was really impactful finding ways to hit that fall-away and shoot over guys.”

Jackson Paveletzke had much more of a breakout game than the stats show, as well.

Despite scoring just two points, the Wofford transfer’s defense stood out in Iowa State’s march back in the second half. His highlights included forcing Virginia Tech sharpshooter Sean Pedulla into a shot clock violation and a standing ovation from the Cyclone faithful that made the trip to Orlando after diving for a loose ball.

“It felt like it was better for us to go four guards, and try to be a little faster – switch some things on defense and speed it up more on offense,” Otzelberger said. “(We) hoped that he could give us a spark and thought he did right away when he came in. He drove the ball to the goal and that was big for us. Everybody’s got to be ready to go when their number is called… you don’t know what the game’s going to call for, but I was pleased with how (Paveletzke) responded.”

Sophomore point guard Tamin Lipsey continued to get the ball in the hoop after he trained to improve his offense throughout the off-season.

The Ames native finished with 18 points, despite battling some cramps.

“(Lipsey’s) such a winner,” Otzelberger said. “He was cramping up bad there – he couldn’t move great. Obviously we’ve been playing him heavy minutes and he’s out there as much as he can be and he just finds a way to put things in his direction.”

Otzelberger noted that Iowa State lost the rebounding battle – something he emphasizes in his coaching philosophy.

The Cyclones found there way to 30 rebounds compared to Virginia Tech’s 35.

“The rebounding battle is something that’s important to us. It’s something we talk about all the time,” Otzelberger said. “I don’t feel like at any moment during the game, we were really impactful. Those three that lead to 3-point baskets – those are huge. We just can’t let that happen.”

The loss drops Iowa State to a 5-1 mark through six games so far this season.

“How you handle adversity is so important,” Otzelberger said. “You have 31 regular season games and as much as you want to go undefeated, you know you’re going to take a loss here and there. I think it’s important for our guys, mentally, to kind of flush the system, understand what things happened to put us in deficits these first two games, and hopefully get out to a fast start Sunday.

Iowa State returns to the court to face Texas A&M in the tournaments 3rd-place game (Sunday, 5:30 p.m.).