Jan 6, 2024; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach T. J. Otzelberger watches his team play against the Oklahoma Sooners during the final seconds of the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State lurked within two possessions of the lead for most of the second half in its Big 12 season opener Saturday at No. 11 Oklahoma.
Then, the Cyclones pounced. Trouble was, the Sooners countered. ISU (11-3, 1-0) went on a 7-0 run to take its first lead, at 56-55, with 4:47 left, but Oklahoma responded with a 7-0 flourish of its own and eventually pulled away for a 71-63 win at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman.
“That last four minutes, we’ve got to be able to hang our hat on our defense and count on getting stops,” ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger said on the Cyclone Radio Network after the game. “That wasn’t the case for us here today.”
Milan Momcilovic, Robert Jones and Hason Ward led the Cyclones with 12 points apiece. Jones and Ward each grabbed a team-best seven rebounds. Momcilovic went 2-for-6 from 3-point range and ISU converted just 3-for-16 of its long-range shots in the loss.
“It’s hard to win a game when we shoot 3 of 16,” Momcilovic said.
ISU’s leading scorer, Tamin Lipsey, scored just four points on 1-for-10 shooting before fouling out — and second-leading scorer Keshon Gilbert scored just six points before drawing his fifth foul, as well. The Cyclones outrebounded Oklahoma (13-1, 1-0), 31-29, and outscored the Sooners, 18-10, in points off turnovers but the combination of cold shooting and an inability to get stops down the stretch doomed them to defeat.
“When that last four minutes hits, it’s all about getting stops and stringing stops together,” said Robert Jones, who went 6-for-11 from the field. “Getting what we call ‘kills’ — three stops in a row down the stretch there. With the lack of that, it’s hard to be able to win a game on the road.”
Oklahoma bolted to an early 12-4 lead fueled by 3-pointers by Javian McCollum and Milos Uzan. The Cyclones slowly chipped away at that deficit, inching within three points of the lead, at 25-22, on a Curtis Jones steal and layup in transition. But ISU continued to struggle shooting — converting on just 39 percent of its first-half field goal attempts — as the Sooners carried a 32-26 lead into halftime.
McCollum led Oklahoma with eight points before the break and finished with a game-high 15 points. Jones and Ward scored six points apiece to pace the Cyclones in the opening 20 minutes.
The Sooners drilled five 3-pointers to the Cyclones’ one in the first half as ISU’s dynamic backcourt duo of Lipsey and Gilbert battled foul trouble.
The Cyclones scored six quick points to start the second half to tie the score at 32-32 and inched into the lead twice in the final five minutes, but simply couldn’t hit shots in critical moments — or secure some much-need near steals — as Oklahoma beat ISU for the seventh time in the past 10 meetings.
“I felt like there (were) probably five or six of those plays where we get a hand on it and just don’t secure it and it gets deflected to them, and now they’ve got a drive, or a shot that puts us in a bad spot,” Otzelberger said. “You’ve got to find a way to finish those plays, especially on the road.”
The Cyclones must rebound quickly to face third-ranked Houston (14-0, 1-0), which comes to Hilton Coliseum for Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Big 12 matchup that will be broadcast on ESPN2.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Momcilovic said. “The (No. 3) team in the country coming into our house. Sold out. You’re excited for that, right?”