Sparks fly — among players and coaches alike — in No. 23 Iowa State’s 78-67 win over Kansas State

Jan 24, 2024; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Milan Momcilovic (22) is fouled by Kansas State Wildcats forward David N’Guessan (1) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — Forty-seven fouls were called. Elbows swung vigorously and occasionally maliciously. And in the waning moments of No. 23 Iowa State’s grinding 78-67 win Wednesday over Kansas State, even the head coaches got heated.

 Wildcats coach Jerome Tang spoke animatedly with Cyclone coach T.J. Otzelberger in the handshake line, before turning to point a finger toward an area behind his team’s bench.

 But what was said between the coaches? And what precipitated the exchange?

 No clear answers emerged for those questions.

 “I think there’s a point in time when things are said between coaches that need to stay that way,” said Otzelberger, whose 23rd-ranked team improved to 15-4 overall and 4-2 in Big 12 play before a vociferous crowd of 14,267. “So that’s where we’ll keep it, but again, a hard-fought game by both sides.”

 Tang’s take on the post-game conversation — or another intense interaction with Otzelberger that took place earlier between coaching boxes?

 “Nothing happened,” said Tang, who was whistled for a technical foul with 2:01 remaining as ISU clung to a 66-62 lead. “We talked about a situation that took place during the game and he said he would check into it. I told him, ‘Thank you.’ I love T.J. Great job. What an unbelievable environment out there.”

 Cyclone freshman forward Milan Momcilovic scored an in-conference career-high 19 points, eight of which came after Tang’s technical foul. The biggest shot for Momcilovic — a wing 3-pointer with 1:29 left that restored a double-digit lead — ensured ISU would climb into a three-way tie for second place in the conference standings with Kansas State (14-5, 4-2), Houston and Saturday’s opponent at Hilton, No. 7 Kansas.

 “Wide open 3 and just knocked it down,” he said.

 But Momcilovic noted that an even bigger shot sprang forth moments earlier. Senior guard Curtis Jones drilled a 3-pointer with 2:49 left after fellow guard Keshon Gilbert chased down an offensive rebound. That play gave ISU a 66-62 lead that mushroomed after the technical foul call.

 “There was certainly nobody that made more toughness, gritty-based plays in that game than Keshon — in terms of charges, loose balls, rebounds, and then none bigger than that one,” Otzelberger said. “And I would agree with Milan that that basket gave us a lot of confidence. The crowd exploded.”

 Jones scored 18 points and sank all five of his free throws. Gilbert led the Cyclones with a career-high 13 rebounds while adding 15 points and a game-high three steals.

 ISU put the game away with a 13-1 run that helped turn a 61-61 tie into the eventual 11-point triumph. Star Cyclones point guard Tamin Lipsey returned after missing one game because of a sprained shoulder and struggled from the field while scoring eight points.

 “Every game in the Big 12’s gonna be intense, so we’ve been preparing for that since June,” Jones said. “It wasn’t unexpected. I just feel like we’ve been preparing for this moment and we talked about it in the huddles — everything we worked for to get to that moment — so I feel like we were prepared.”

 What neither team seemed to be prepared for was the ever-present whistle from officials. The Cyclones attempted 38 free throws. The Wildcats put up 23 shots from the line. Twenty-eight fouls were called in the second half alone, which greatly inhibited any flow to the game.

 “Yeah, it was tough for sure, just because (of) a lot of free throws, a lot of fouls,” said Momcilovic, who went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. “A lot of stoppages.”

 And a lot of highly charged action among both players and coaches.

 “To me, it’s just two coaches who (have a) high level of intensity,” Otzelberger said. “The game was intense, the coaches were intense and we’re gonna leave it where it was at.”

 That would be a 40-minute brawl also known as just another night in the Big 12. 

 “Every Big 12 game’s physical,” Jones said. “I can’t really remember too much of what was going on. I was just kind of out there playing.”