Iowa State Cyclones forward Milan Momcilovic (22) takes a three-point shot against Green Bay during the first half at Hilton Coliseum on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES – Milan Momcilovic got the ball at the top of the key. He stepped into his shot, his first of his collegiate career, and canned a 3-pointer.
The Hilton Coliseum crowd was anxiously awaiting the start of the new campaign, with an edge akin to last year’s Texas game, albeit toned down slightly.
After his first shot found the net, Iowa State fans in attendance knew they had something special in the highly-touted bucket-finder from the program’s Wisconsin pipeline, as he went on to score 18 points while going 6-of-7 from three three’s in 85-44 win.
“Milan is someone we have a lot of confidence in,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We are starting a freshman because we know what he can do. He’s a really, really good basketball player… You feel like he’s going to make every shot he takes out there.”
Momcilovic hit his second 3-pointer not long after the first, and the rout was on from there.
Four starters ended the game in double figures, including Momcilovic, who finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal.
Alongside Tamin Lipsey’s improved jumper, which saw him net each of the two 3-pointers he attempted, the Iowa State offense was rolling.
“Tamin is as great of a leader, person, student and ambassador for our program as anybody could be,” Otzelberger said. “There is nobody that I would rather have leading our program than Tamin Lipsey.”
The Ames native is considered one of the captains in the program, and devoted himself in the off-season to improving the aspects of his game that he lacked in his freshman season. He finished the night with 12 points and recorded led the team with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and a pair of steals.
It added another dynamic to the offense on a team that prides itself in its defensive prowess.
Keshon Gilbert (17 points) and Tre King (13 points) combined to score 30 points in a game that wasn’t close from the start.
That was expected. Green Bay returned just two players to its roster from a season ago, one of which was ineligible for the game, and is under guidance from new coach Sundance Wicks.
It’s the first of four tune-up type of games to open the season for the Cyclones, and that’s still a positive.
Five-star prospect Omaha Biliew finished his Iowa State debut with four points, a rebound, an assist, and eventually fouled out late in the second half.
Biliew is still coming into his own form and Otzelberger offered an anecdote about how tuned up he was for the opener.
“We have a lot of belief in Omaha (Biliew) and what he can do,” Otzelberger said. “There’s not a guy in work ethic, character, want-to – and I mean he wants to do it for Iowa State… He was telling me ‘Coach, you don’t understand how long I’ve come to watch games here, and how much I’ve followed Hilton Coliseum and Hilton Magic and to get a chance to play here.
“The last day and a half, it’s been, ‘Just relax. Just calm down – let it come to you,'” Otzelberger said of his message to his young star. “Certainly some of those fouls that came up – you know, it’s hard to stay in rhythm. I wanted to keep playing (while in foul trouble), but mentally, it has an effect on you. It’s something that created a good learning opportunity for him. We’ve got all of the confidence and belief in the world that he will use this game, learn from it, and continue to improve as the year goes forward.”
That goes without mentioning Hason Ward’s zero points in the game, but Otzelberger has no concerns there.
“You can look at the numbers and say (Ward) didn’t score, but how they defended pick-and-rolls allowed our guards to get down towards the basket,” Otzelberger said. “The play that we usually look for with him is something they geared their defense towards trying to take away.”
For the Cyclones, there’s more learning opportunities ahead before the competition grows larger.
Iowa State will face Lindenwood, which opened the season with an 84-52 loss to Nebraska, on Thursday, November 9 (Hilton Coliseum, 7 p.m. ESPN+).