Iowa State’s Robert Jones dunks the ball during a basketball game at Hilton Coliseum on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Ames. © Lily Smith/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Tamin Lipsey saw Tre King standing in the low post with a 1-v-1 matchup opportunity just after the opening tip. The ball got to King faster than he expected, when he lifted his head to take a look at the situation, before going up and getting to the rim.
Iowa had just taken a 3-2 lead — it’s only of Thursday’s game. King earned an and-1 to take it back. Robert Jones would do the same on the ensuing possession and the Cyclones were off to the races in a 90-65 trouncing of the Hawkeyes Thursday at Hilton Coliseum.
Jones and King ruled the frontcourt as if they were the bash brothers straight out of the second Mighty Ducks movie. And they weren’t facing Iceland.
“To me, the most impressive thing (I saw in the game) is how Tre and Rob set the tone for the game from the start,” head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “The way they established the physical play on both sides, the way they established (that they would) go right at the rim and will not be denied… ‘we’re gonna finish plays at the foul line, we’re going to score at the goal.’ Those guys as leaders, (are) guys who understand the importance of a game like this. (They) understand the pride and the passion you have to play with to set the tone.”
Jones and King laid the framework for the biggest win by margin of victory for Iowa State in the Cy-Hawk men’s basketball series by scoring their team’s first eight points.
Iowa’s Ben Krikke, who transferred in this season from Valparaiso, was no match for the duo. The Hawkeyes didn’t have a second post presence to play the help-defense needed to slow down either of the Cyclone bigs.
Their physicality in the post quickly turned to flashy plays, and the progression rate never wavered, especially for Jones.
The pair combined to go 10-of-11 from the field in the opening 20 minutes, helping Iowa State build an 18-point halftime lead.
“I mean, to be quite honest, that’s the game plan every night,” King said. “We have a unique team where we have a lot of guys who are very physical and very good at finishing at the rim. One thing that coach (Otzelberger) and (Director of Player Development Erik Crawford) have always preached to us is dominating the paint. Credit to guys like Keshon (Gilbert) and Tamin (Lipsey) who made the plays getting downhill. We really just played off of them. It’s really, really easy when we’re all flowing and in sync like that, like we were tonight.”
King finished the game with 17 points, but 13 of them came in the first half. On top of scoring the first five points of the game, King went into halftime with a team-high plus/minus of +18. He and Jones fittingly scored the final three points of the first half for Iowa State, as well.
“When you have a guy on your side that you feel like, if a fight went down, that you’ve got the toughest guy on your side, it makes everybody feel a little bit tougher,” Otzelberger said. “And Rob brings that to our team. So it’s appropriate that ‘Big Rob Energy’ fits, and it was awesome to see him engaging with our fans, when he came out there before that last media timeout.”
Robert Jones’ growth since putting on an Iowa State uniform for the first time cannot be understated after Thursday night.
The big man that began as an energy-booster off of the bench is playing like a pillar that holds up the offense through nine games.
In his first four collegiate seasons, Jones’ field goal percentage was either in the 50’s or below it.
To this point this season, it’s at a flat 75 percent.
“He’s going to continue to climb because of how he works and how much he cares,” Otzelberger said. “That jersey means a lot to him – being a cyclone means a whole bunch to him. His teammates mean a lot to him, (with his) leadership and how he sets the tone every single day. I think Rob has, by many, been undervalued for a long time. And he’s showing everyone that hard work every day does pay off.”
There’s no telling what this win will do for Iowa State in the grand scheme of the season. Big 12 play doesn’t start for nearly a month.
But if Team USA had the versions of Jones and King that showed up to Hilton tonight, it may beat Iceland by double digits.