ISU guard Curtis Jones is eager to reprise his sparkplug role this season for the Cyclones

Mar 28, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Curtis Jones (5) and guard Keshon Gilbert (10) talk to the referee against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the semifinals of the East Regional of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — Thirty-two seconds remained. Iowa State guard Curtis Jones toed the free-throw line, drew in a deep breath, and calmly sank what proved to be two decisive free throws.

 The date: Jan. 20, 2024.

 The opponent: No. 19 TCU.

  The outcome: A 73-72 Cyclone win that sparked a remarkable streak for ISU’s invaluable sixth man.

 Jones scored in double figures in 14 straight games to close the 2023-24 regular season. The Cyclones won 11 of those games, but Jones was just getting started. The former transfer from Buffalo eventually scored a career-high 26 points in ISU’s Sweet 16 loss to Illinois, establishing himself as one of head coach T.J. Otzelberger’s most clutch performers — a role he’s eager to reprise this season, whether starting or coming off the bench.

 “I put in a lot of work in the gym and that work usually always shows itself,” the 6-4 senior said. “It might not show right away, but it does. (So I’m) just trusting myself and believing in myself.”

 First, Otzelberger and his staff — as well as Jones’ teammates — needed to trust him. Jones struggled early last season, going 9-for-42 from 3-point range in his first seven games. But his minutes began to climb late in the nonconference season and his contributions on both ends of the floor crescendoed accordingly.

 “The TCU game on the road, I felt like he really stepped up for us,” said Otzelberger, who has guided the Cyclones to two Sweet 16 appearances in his first three seasons as head coach. “You started to see that confidence grow and as we went through to the end of league play and the postseason, there wasn’t anybody playing more confidently than him out there on the court. So I think his demeanor, that matters. His confidence matters. What we’re seeing in practice right now is a guy who’s taken a step as a leader and you can tell him I said that when he comes out here.”

 Jones didn’t need that positive reinforcement, but appreciates it all the same. He’s part of a deeply experienced backcourt, along with Tamin Lipsey and Keshon Gilbert, that’s determined to propel ISU to greater heights this season.

 “We’re all at the table, eating breakfast and dinner together, having conversations, laughs, things like that, that helps,” said Jones, who notched multiple steals in 11 games last season. “So we’re with each other (and) that helps and that’s the biggest thing. I feel like now having a second year with the same guys is gonna be even better, because we (were) close last year.”

 Gilbert — the Cyclones’ leading scorer last season — echoed those bond-based sentiments.

 “We know what’s expected,” Gilbert said. “We know how to set the tone in practice every day, so I feel like we raise the standard every day. Everybody’s gotta come up and match us. We never come in lackadaisical. We come in, like, ‘This is what it is, and this is how we’re gonna do it.’”

 Jones wasn’t sure he’d ever get to do anything at the major college level. He fielded few offers out of high school, so he enrolled in community college. After that, Buffalo gave him a chance and ISU followed suit last offseason. Now Jones is a critical component of an experienced Cyclone team expected to do big things again this season — and he’s primed to turn the weight of expectations into rousing results.

 “He’s playing at a really high level (and) my confidence in him continues to grow because he does the hard work,” Otzelberger said. “He’s an everyday guy and we’re gonna continue to challenge him to elevate himself and his teammates because he did a great job of that last year and we’ve seen tremendous progress even from that point.”