116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Every team has an identity.
Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger has lived with that message throughout the season, demanding defensive nastiness, in-your-face pressure and grit from the Cyclones.
There was no identity crisis for No. 23 Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against Missouri on Saturday, as the Cyclones defeated the Tigers, 67-50.
Missouri played right into Iowa State’s hand from the start, turning the ball over 13 times in the first half, giving Iowa State its winning formula to the tune of 17 points off turnovers before halftime.
“We really talk about making effort-based plays where we’re diving for loose balls, we’re getting on the floor,” Otzelberger said. “The game rewards you when you do that.”
The Tigers finished with 18 turnovers, allowing the Cyclones to score 23 points off turnovers. Missouri had 13 turnovers total vs. No. 1 Auburn on Tuesday.
Despite shooting 34 percent from the field in the first half, Iowa State led Missouri 32-29 at the break. But when your habits are better than your opponent’s, Otzelberger said the wins come easier.
“I’ll always be a believer in that you play to the level of your habits,” Otzelberger said.
A new public addition to the Cyclones’ unapologetic identity has been “kills.” Iowa State views a “kill” as three straight defensive stops, and the Hilton Coliseum student section took notice. Students acted as unofficial stat keepers Saturday, chanting when a kill was about to be secured. After a successful third stop, a giant “X” is held up signifying the win.
“Every team has an identity, our identity is stringing together and stacking up defensive stops,” Otzelberger said.
Or in the Cyclones’ words: racking up the kills.
The unofficial tally for kills on Saturday was nine. But does Otzelberger have a target for the Cyclones to meet when it comes to defensive stops? How about nine?
“Yeah, more than that,” Otzelberger said with a smile.
Missouri’s 50 points is the fewest scored by the Tigers in the rivalry’s history since March 2, 2005 (49 points).
Tyrese Hunter finished with zero turnovers for the game — the first collegiate game of his career with zero giveaways. The freshman put up 14 points, four assists and two steals in the 17-point win.
But Hunter’s most recent spotlight has come from his defense. Hunter was named to the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Watch List on Thursday, making him one of three freshmen in the country to make the list.
Hunter added to his Big 12 lead in steals with two on Saturday and said postgame the Cyclones have to continue their identity going forward.
“Starting on defense, coming out and pressuring, we stick to our principles and do what we do on a daily basis,” Hunter said.
The Cyclones’ 23 points off turnovers on Saturday was good for the fourth-most Missouri has allowed all season.
While the first half set the tone for the Cyclones’ game plan, the second half is when it all came together. The Tigers’ first possession of the second half was an offensive foul on a moving screen. Add another turnover.
It was over shortly after.
The Cyclones erupted on a 17-1 run to take a 51-35 lead with 11:07 left. Missouri went cold for over seven minutes in the half, including 1-for-10 from the field with just over eight minutes gone by.
Iowa State forward Aljaz Kunc said Saturday’s win showed the Cyclones’ commitment to effort and intensity can translate on any given night. Kunc knocked down three of his five 3-point attempts for the game. But he set his answers to the Cyclones’ default setting postgame: defense first.
After turning the Tigers over 18 times and controlling most of the game, Kunc provided a simple answer to why the Cyclones won and hope to win going forward.
“We picked it up defensively and defense led to offense,” Kunc said.
Pretty simple identity.