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Jaren Holmes propels No. 12 Iowa State past No. 5 Kansas State with clutch free throws
A Cyclone career-high 23 points for Holmes in ISU’s 80-76 win
AMES — Jaren Holmes knocked down the layup, absorbed the contact and stared into the courtside camera en route to a 3-point play.
The Iowa State senior’s first photogenic moment came early in Tuesday’s tense 80-76 win over No. 5 Kansas State, but the graduate transfer from St. Bonaventure never left the frame.
He remained in sharp focus, capping the triumph that catapulted the 12th-ranked Cyclones into a tie atop the conference standings by starring in a pressure-packed, climactic close-up at the free throw line, where he sank two game-sealing shots with one second left.
“I just took a deep breath and thought about me being in the driveway with my little brother,” said Holmes, who scored 18 of his ISU career high-tying 23 points in the second half. “That little happy place. Nobody’s there. Just me and him. And it was just like that. I knocked them down when I was younger and I knocked them down tonight.”
The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2) and the Wildcats (17-3, 6-2) are now tied for first place in the Big 12 with Texas, which beat Oklahoma State at home on Tuesday.
ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger notched his 10th win against a Top 25 foe in less than two seasons — and it was the Cyclones’ first triumph over a top-five foe since 2019.
“The belief, to me, they earn that every day,” Otzelberger said of his team. “Our guys earn that every day in how they work, how they work together. So winning the games validates that, certainly, but their belief and their confidence — I’ve really been impressed with their preparation coming into this game as well as last week, both coming off a loss.”
ISU guard Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Forward Osun Osunniyi chipped in 16 points and two emphatic blocked shots. Cyclone freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey scored 10 points, grabbed a team-high six rebounds, doled out four assists and snatched away a team-high three steals.
The Cyclones led by as many by 10 points in the second half twice, but the Wildcats clawed back into the game each time behind clutch 3-point shooting and aggressive back-door cuts for easy layups. Kansas State point guard Marquis Nowell scored 18 of his team-high 23 points in the second half, including three free throws that set the stage for Holmes’ commanding center-stage performance in the game’s final tick.
“We’ve got to watch film and get better from this,” Nowell said. “Wash it down. We’ll see them down the road.”
ISU outscored the Wildcats in points in the paint (34-28) and points off turnovers (25-13), but still could never fully pull away until the very end.
“I think I have a tough team,” Kansas State first-year head coach Jerome Tang said. “T.J. has a tough team, too. This is the Big 12.”
That’s why tough is the operative term to describe Tuesday’s game along with the full 18-game round-robin schedule. It’s also a choice word to deploy when discussing Cyclone guard Caleb Grill’s performance while battling obvious back pain. Grill drilled two free throws with 11 seconds left to give ISU a seemingly-decisive 78-73 lead, but then fouled Nowell on a subsequent 3-point attempt on the other end. Nowell made all three. Then Holmes made the biggest two — and not in a driveway, but before a sellout crowd of 14,267 that erupted as his second shot sliced through the net.
“He’s really coming on for us,” Otzelberger said of Holmes, who drained 8 of his 11 field goal attempts. “Last week at home (in a win over Texas) was a huge game, but this one’s even better. The guy works like crazy. He loves being here. His energy and enthusiasm — he’s a competitor, but he’s always got that smile on his face.”