Iowa State’s message to freshman forward Milan Momcilovic entering Big 12 play: Shoot more

Iowa State Cyclones forward Milan Momcilovic (22) takes a shot over New Hampshire Wildcats forward Trey Woodyard (33) 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

AMES — Iowa State freshman forward Milan Momcilovic acknowledges one flaw in his otherwise wide-ranging, shot-making repertoire: He’s simply not shooting enough.

 That’s an enviable position for any young player to reside in — and Momcilovic’s offensive prowess must continue to develop as the Cyclones (11-2) begin Big 12 play at 5 p.m. Saturday against No. 11 Oklahoma (12-1) in Norman, Okla.

 “I mean, I’m gonna need to do it more,” said Momcilovic, who’s averaging 13.6 points and shooting a team-best 44.4 percent from 3-point range. “I’m gonna need to take over some games.”

 Those are heady words for the high-performing newcomer from Pewaukee, Wis., but he’s backed up his confident demeanor with consistent production over the first half of the season. Momcilovic has scored 10 or more points in 11 of ISU’s 13 games — and he’s by far the team’s best foul shooter, sinking 90 percent of his attempts from the line.

 “He doesn’t really get too high or too low, or focus on what’s coming, or what’s been in the past, which is a great quality to have,” said Cyclone head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team boasts the nation’s second-best steal percentage (16.8) according to KenPom. “He’s also a tremendous worker. (There’s) not a guy on our team that spends more time in the gym than he does, so I think the game slows down for him based on the work that he’s done. … You look at even when Georges Niang was a freshman, their games are different but there’s a (shared sense of) confidence. There are certain things they do, unique, that you don’t see guys do every day.”

 Momcilovic and the Cyclones will run into a Sooners team that guards sternly for the entire shot clock. Oklahoma is holding foes to an effective field goal percentage of 43.8 percent, which is tenth-best in the country per KenPom

 “If (there’s) anything I’ve learned (by) being in this league is you can’t get too high or too low,” Otzelberger said. “Everybody’s gonna take a loss. Everybody’s gonna lose multiple games in a row. Adversity sets in in a possession, a sequence, in a game — I think if anything, in the Big 12, it’s taking it one possession at a time. Go win that next possession and stay in that focus.”

 That’s not a difficult proposition for this version of the Cyclones, who can push the pace both more frequently and more productively than Otzelberger’s first two teams. ISU ranked 226th and 328th, respectively, in adjusted tempo in his first two seasons at the helm, but has risen to 67th this season.

 “I’ve had a lot of fun with this team,” said Momcilovic, who has drained at least one 3-pointer in all but one game this season. “I’m playing a lot as a freshman, so I can’t complain about that, but now it’s the big boys. It’s the Big 12, so now the nonconference is gone, so I’ve gotta step it up a whole other level.”

 That, as noted, starts with shooting more — something his point guard, Tamin Lipsey, looks forward to seeing.

 “It’s easy for me to get it to him because he’s such a big target and he just gets shot off quick,” said Lipsey, who leads the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game. “He can shoot from basically anywhere on the court, so (I) always have my eyes open looking for him and knowing where he’s gonna be is just thinking one step ahead.”