Cyclones find breakout performances from Gilbert, Jones & co. in road win over No. 19 TCU

Jan 20, 2024; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Keshon Gilbert (10) celebrates with Iowa State Cyclones guard Curtis Jones (5) during the first half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In the absence of starting point guard Tamin Lipsey, Iowa State needed to see a number of players take on increased roles in Saturday’s matchup with No. 19 TCU.

Not only did the Cyclones get that in forcing a program record 27 turnovers (in a Big 12 game), but a few different faces stepped up in the team’s 73-72 win.

“They really did,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said on the Cyclone Radio Network postgame show. “We knew coming in, certainly without Tamin, that everybody was going to have to step up. We’re fortunate – obviously you look across the board – Curtis Jones did a great job, Demarion Watson in extended minutes did a great job, Omaha Biliew with meaningful and impactful minutes did a great job. We knew we were going to have to be at our best, and I felt like our guys, for the majority of the game, were really locked in for what we needed to do today.”

Iowa State built up multiple 19-point leads throughout the game, but had to stave off a too-little, too-late comeback from the Horned Frogs to secure the victory.

Keshon Gilbert finished the game with a team-high 20 points, and showed off his determination getting to the hoop in key moments. He added four rebounds, four assists and two steals, and certainly played a role in the turnovers the Cyclones forced TCU into.

“He did and he set the tone early with the ball pressure,” Otzelberger said. “He generated some turnovers and then (gave) us the ability to score off of our defense. It just felt like he was the more aggressive player (on the court). It got our guys going and we fed off that energy.”

Iowa State also got 17 points from Curtis Jones, who put his athleticism on display, starting in Lipsey’s spot in the lineup.

Jones connected on two 3-pointers, but got to the rim plenty of times adding four assists and seven steals – one shy of the program’s single-game record.

“It means a lot,” Jones said of the win. “It means everything. This is a huge win – especially against a ranked team on the road. It’s already hard enough to win on the road, but against a ranked team, it means a little more.”

Both Jones and Gilbert elevated their games in the Cyclones’ victory, which could go a long ways in the grand scheme of things as the Big 12 schedule rolls on.

Lipsey’s injury may have helped inspire them both, too.

“Step up for Tamin – win this for Tamin,” Demarion Watson said of the team’s mindset. “It was all just kind of about Tamin, because he brings so much effort for this team. He loves this team. He loves the city of Ames… We just decided collectively that we had to (win this game) for Tamin.”

Watson played a major part in the Iowa State’s ability to build the 19-point leads in the second half.

He eclipsed his season-high in minutes played by double digits, and was integral in the opening 12 minutes when the Cyclones were building it up.

“I was just not letting my playing time determine how hard I work,” Watson said on the postgame radio show. “I was just continuing to work as hard as I can – even working harder to show and prove that I can still be in the rotation to help this team win. I just feel like my preparations continue to pay-off, and I’ll continue to just work as hard as I can.”

Tre King contributed too, with five rebounds to go along with seven points, which nearly all seemed to come in big moments in the game.

“It’s the momentum and just making sure that – when they go on those runs, you need to be there to answer,” Otzelberger said. “Our guys had a lot of mental toughness to be able to say, ‘alright, we’ve got to make a big play.’ A lot of times, I felt like an offensive rebound got us our momentum back.”

The win pushes Iowa State to a 3-2 mark in Big 12 play going into an opportunistic week of back-to-back home games.

The Cyclones will take on Kansas State Wednesday in Ames before No. 3 Kansas comes to town on Saturday.

“It should be a step where you say, ‘OK, we’ve had some great opportunities at Hilton, but to go on the road against a really good team and come out with a win,'” Otzelberger said. “Now we’ve got to get our focus right to going back home, having great practices on Monday and Tuesday, and being prepared because we know it’s going to be a big challenge again on Wednesday.”