ISU’s Curtis Jones, Keshon Gilbert peaking at the right time in advance of Baylor, Texas road trip

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

AMES — Any given day at around 6:50 a.m., Iowa State guard Curtis Jones knows precisely where he’ll be: Grinding away at a workout alongside fellow transfer Keshon Gilbert.

 “I know the type of player he is,” said Jones, who hopes to continue to shine off the bench for the No. 12 Cyclones in Saturday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 matchup with No. 18 Baylor (ESPN2) in Waco. “I’ve seen it since the summer. Nothing that he’s doing really surprises me. I’m really happy for him, though.”

 Both Jones and Gilbert have been key contributors for the Cyclones (16-4, 5-2) during their current three-game win streak. Both saw their respective roles expand when a shoulder injury forced standout point guard Tamin Lipsey to miss the game that sparked that surge — a 73-72 triumph at No. 25 TCU — and both have scored 15 or more points in the past three wins.

 “Me and Curt didn’t have the best start to Big 12 play, but I’d say we just kept working,” said Gilbert, a season-long starter and ISU’s second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game. “We knew it was gonna come around for us. We knew the work was gonna show eventually, so we just kept working, and then when our numbers were called to step up and have a big game, we ended up doing it. We’re still doing it right now.”

 They’ll need to as the talented, but struggling Bears (15-5, 4-3) seek to end a three-game skid. They also lost three times to the Cyclones last season — a rare occurrence, as they’d won nine of the 10 previous games against ISU.

 “We know they’re gonna have a great crowd, we know they have a great atmosphere,” Cyclone head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We’ve just got to be ready to carry our defensive play, our aggressiveness, our toughness, and our mentality, no matter (where) we go play on the road — whether it’s the first time your guys are in there, or they’ve been in there before. I think it’s just the mindset to do that job.”

 Jones, a transfer from Buffalo, and Gilbert, who came to ISU from UNLV, embody that ornery mindset Otzelberger instills in his players. They each rank second and third to Lipsey in assists and steals for the Cyclones, so they’ve been skilled facilitators as well as chaos-inducing agents on the defensive end of the floor.

 “Defense, that’s the number one thing here, regardless,” Jones said. “If you don’t play defense, you’re not gonna see the court. So that’s the motivation right there. I just try to give my best effort on defense, be disruptive in the passing lanes and on the ball, and, you know, the offense will come.”

 ISU continues to lead the country in steal percentage (16.0), according to KenPom, but the team’s biggest improvement has come on offense, where the Cyclones have cracked the top 50. For reference, ISU ranked 114th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season and 171st in Otzelberger’s first season as head coach.

 So more shooters and ball handlers coupled with an experienced frontcourt equals increased scoring and a faster tempo. All of which should be on full display against the Bears, whose three straight losses have come by two points or fewer and/or in overtime.

 “I don’t really expect nothing less than what we’ve been seeing,” Gilbert said of Baylor. “I expect more actually because they’ve been on a losing streak, so we’ve just got to come out ready, and ready to fight.”