Keshon Gilbert’s first career triple-double highlights ISU’s 85-70 win over New Hampshire

Iowa State Cyclones guard Keshon Gilbert (10) goes to the basket around New Hampshire Wildcats forward Promise Opurum (12) and New Hampshire Wildcats guard Naim Miller (5) during the first half of a NCAA college basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMESKeshon Gilbert felt a tap on his shoulder. It came from fellow Iowa State guard Tamin Lipsey, who shared a simple message.

 “‘Go get it,’” Lipsey told Gilbert when the latter stood one rebound away from his first career triple-double Sunday against New Hampshire. “So I was trying to go get that rebound for that triple-double.”

 Mission accomplished. Gilbert finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists as the Cyclones closed out their nonconference slate with an 85-70 win before a sellout crowd of 14,267 at Hilton Coliseum.

 ISU (11-2) wrapped up the 2023 portion of its schedule with an imperfect game during which the Wildcats (8-5) went on a 14-0 run to end the first half. The Cyclones started both halves strong, but settled for less-than-ideal shots at times — particularly on a handful of fast-break opportunities.  

 “I thought today there was complacency in terms of you start to get a little bit of a lead (and) then you start to, you know — you can take an OK shot, and then we get distracted and then they’re flying the ball at us, and with five 3-point shooters, they’re able to space us more than most,” ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “So that’s something we’ll definitely continue to work on, is having that intent offensively (that) if we don’t get exactly what we want with an advantage, that we’ll be patient and play for one another.”

 Lipsey — who recorded his first career triple-double in a 99-80 win on Dec. 1 at DePaul — notched a team-high 16 points. Freshman forward Milan Momcilovic chipped in 15 points and Tre King added 13. Senior forward Hason Ward made his long-awaited return from a foot injury to compile 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 17 minutes.

 “It just feels great to be back out there,” Ward said. “Getting back to myself. Being back out there with my boys is just an all-around good feeling.”

 The 6-8 Ward’s length and athleticism in the post complements 6-10 fellow senior big man Robert Jones’ physical play in the interior. Jones outmuscles opposing players. Ward serves as a high-flying eraser who can swat shots away at any time. 

 “Obviously, we’ve got Rob, who’s probably the most physical big in the (Big 12), and then we’ve got (Ward), who’s one of the top shot blockers in the league, so have a dynamic duo with those two,” Lipsey said. “We’re gonna use them really well and they’re gonna show what they can do, and it’s gonna help us a lot on the defensive side.”

 The road ahead, of course, becomes a far more perilous one for the Cyclones, who begin conference play at 5:00 p.m. Saturday at No. 12 Oklahoma. Half of the Big 12’s 14 teams currently reside among KenPom’s top 32 spots — and ISU sits at No. 17 in that upper-tier, advanced metrics-based mix.

 “Every single night it’s the mindset to be prepared to be at your best to do it on game night,” Otzelberger said. “And then regardless of outcome, get right back to practice and do it again. I think (this team) has shown us that. I think they’ve shown us stretches where they can be really good when our defense leads to our offense. And then we’ve shown immaturity at times. We’ve shown that we’re not as focused for one reason or another at a certain point, and we’ve got to clean that up because every possession matters so much more now as we move forward. So an ill-advised shot, not sprinting back on defense, missing a block-out, those can be game-changing, momentum-changing types of plays. We’ve got to continue to keep our focus on being at our best and not allowing those things to happen.”