Feb 6, 2024; Austin, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) lays in a basket over Texas Longhorns forward Dylan Disu (1) during the second half at Moody Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State faced a crossroads. The Cyclones stood 2-2 in Big 12 play after an 87-82 loss at BYU three and a half weeks ago and their designated “floor general,” sophomore point guard Tamin Lipsey, had to sit out the following game at TCU because of a shoulder injury.
So how’d that go for him — and his team?
“The first half was easy,” said Lipsey, who hopes to help his No. 14-ranked team (17-5, 6-3) sweep the Horned Frogs (16-6, 5-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) in Hilton Coliseum. “We’re up 20 points, I was having fun talking to the crowd, and then it got close at the end, but I always knew our guys were gonna pull through.”
ISU held on for a 73-72 win over TCU that day in a game that typified what life in the expanded and even deeper Big 12 is like in the 2023-24 season. No lead is safe. Momentum can be illusory. The team that fully adheres to its bedrock principles tends to win.
“We have so much respect for the teams we play and the coaches, the programs, and we know we’re the best league in the country and we’re playing against the best,” said Cyclone head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team still leads the country in defensive steals percentage at 15.9 according to KenPom. “So I think we’re very intentional with our preparation. At the same time, we have tremendous confidence in what we do every single day. It doesn’t mean we don’t adapt and adjust to opponents. It just means that our core values, the things we want to do in terms of pressuring the basketball, being physical, and keeping the ball in front of us, blocking out on the offensive boards — our preparation is far more about doing effort-based things to the best of our ability.”
So don’t expect much to change for ISU as it seeks its fourth straight win over the Jamie Dixon-led Horned Frogs in the series before a sold-out crowd at Hilton. But it would be unwise to assume TCU will approach its second meeting with the Cyclones the same way, given it turned the ball over 27 times in the game Lipsey was forced to witness from the bench.
“I think it was a bit of an outlier game for them,” Otzelberger said. “And then even for us, we take pride in turning people over, but that’s been probably our best game, certainly in league play, at doing so, so we’ve gotta be prepared (for how) they’re gonna have a bunch of different ways to try to space us out and attack us.”
A healthier Lipsey — who has started all 54 of the games he’s played in since joining the program — could help ISU thwart those efforts. He’s one of 15 players to be placed on the Naismith defensive player of the year watchlist and he’s already set a single-game program record for steals with eight against Prairie View A&M. But his absence in the previous meeting with TCU allowed backup guard Curtis Jones to showcase his defensive prowess. He snared seven steals in that win in Fort Worth, so the Cyclones’ disruptive tendencies don’t rely solely on Lipsey’s chaos-inducing abilities.
“(Guard) Keshon (Gilbert) and Curt were able to step up and take his spot,” ISU senior forward Robert Jones said. “You lose out on one of your leaders like that in a big game on the road, everybody’s gotta step up.”
Lipsey enjoyed watching that happen — even as the game got tense in the second half. He’ll enjoy it even more if he can help the Cyclones cement a sweep over the Horned Frogs, which would keep his team near the top of the league standings.
“In this conference, every game is difficult,” Otzelberger said.