Iowa State squanders 21-point lead in final Orlando game

Nov 24, 2023; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Milan Momcilovic (22) shoots the ball against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the second half during the ESPN Events Invitational Semifinal at State Farm Field House. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State led No. 12 Texas A&M by 21 points during the first half of Sunday’s ESPN Events Invitational finale in Orlando, but couldn’t keep its distance in a 73-69 loss.

Texas A&M closed the first half on an 11-0 run, and prevented Iowa State from making a field goal for a 7-minute, 17-second stretch between the minutes before and after halftime.

“They continued scoring the basketball at the end of the half and the start of the second half, it was like a 16-0 run or something like that,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said on the Varsity Network postgame show. “We really addressed at halftime, that we had to keep our focus where it needs to be – on the glass and keeping the ball in the paint. They hit a couple of three’s toward the end of the (first) half and they hadn’t shot it well up to that point, and we didn’t start the second half the way we needed.”

“Tonight we had that great start, but it felt like out fight at the end of the first half and start of the second half wasn’t where it needed to be,” Otzelberger said.

Texas A&M was without its second and third leading scorers in Henry Coleman and Tyrece Radford, due to injury. There wasn’t an issue in that department, after the team’s slow offensive start.

The Aggies missed their first 10 3-pointers in the game, but made six of their last 14 after Solomon Washington hit back-to-back long balls late in the first half. He led his team with 18 points.

As Iowa State battled to get its lead back in the back end of the second half, Texas A&M always seemed to have an answer.

“Certainly the fight – The competitive spirit, the effort and the energy is there,” Otzelberger said. “But we’ve got to do things to keep ourselves out of deficit. There’s too many things going on out there right now that put (our team) in tough spots. Certainly the foul line is an important area that we’ve got to be able to cash in and be better from there, and I think we’ve shown that we can make the shots from the perimeter and move the ball, and share for one another. We’ve just got to rely on our confidence there.”

Free throws once again plagued the Cyclones in that venture to getting the lead back, as the team ended the game with an 18-27 mark.

They also finished 9-34 from the 3-point line after sitting at 50 percent earlier in the game, but the number of attempts aren’t an area of concern for the staff.

“No I just think we need to make the right play and take advantage of the right opportunity,” Otzelberger said. “We started 7-14, shooting 50 percent, and I thought that was a good number and a good place to be at. We had more opportunities in the second half that showed up.

“I don’t think it was fatigue, I just think it’s being in these moments together and making the most of these opportunities,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve got guys that have proven to make shots in the past, and we know that they’ll continue to do it. So, we’ve just got to make the right plays – it’s more about the right play than ‘how many attempts at the rim vs. the 3-point line.'”

Tamin Lipsey finished the game with 10 points, four assists, and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes on the court.

He fouled out with 44 seconds remaining committing a foul during the free throw battle near the end of the game.

“(Lipsey’s) an absolute warrior,” Otzelberger said. “His body has taken a beating here over three days with the heavy minutes we’ve played him. It’s just so hard to have him out of the game. He’s the ultimate winner and competitor – he had 14 rebounds in that game. It shows a lot about him… him and (Robert Jones), those guys are playing heavy minutes and leading down the floor. I’m really proud of them.”

Milan Momcilovic led the Cyclones in scoring with 15 points.

The loss drops Iowa State to 5-2 on the year, ahead of its first true road game at DePaul on Friday night (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) as part of the Big 12/Big East Battle.

“More than anything, we just need to stay the course,” Otzelberger said. “We need to keep working. We’ve got a lot of guys that games like this are new for – the environment we play in, the teams we’re playing against, guys that are taking a step up in level of competition. We just need to continue to pour our confidence into them, continue to do the hard work every single day, and improve one day at a time and if we do that, we’ll be happy moving forward.”