116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Five. That’s how many different leading scorers No. 23 Iowa State has leaned on while starting the season 5-1.
That offensive diversity also helps explain how the Cyclones managed to mount a rally to upend then-No. 1 North Carolina in last weekend’s Phil Knight Invitational in Portland before falling, 81-63, to No. 8 Connecticut in the prestigious event’s championship finale.
“I think it just shows the type of guys that we have,” said ISU’s overall leading scorer Jaren Holmes, whose team faces North Dakota at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum. “Everybody in that locker room is a winner. It showed throughout (at) Portland. Altogether, we didn’t get the job done, but I think seeing everybody in that locker room after the game, it showed the love that we have for each other, how much we want to win and how much we want to compete every single day.”
Holmes, who is averaging 16.7 points per game, is the only ISU player who has led the team in scoring multiple times (twice).
Fellow guard Caleb Grill ignited the comeback against the now-No.18 Tar Heels by scoring a career-high 31 points.
Forward Osun Osunniyi scored a team-best 14 points in the loss to the Huskies and banged-up sixth man Gabe Kalscheur led the Cyclones with 23 points in the PKI opening round, 81-79, overtime win over Villanova. Forward Aljaz Kunc has paced the team in scoring as well, proving this season’s ISU team is capable of scoring via several sources and from anywhere on the floor.
“It’s balancing our offense out, knowing against switching teams, which we will see a lot moving forward, that we can also attack them in the paint,” Cyclones head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “That we don't have to be so predicated on just the jump shot (and) making enough perimeter shots to win, that we can go into the paint.
“I think we can even continue to be more stubborn so we get to the foul line at a higher rate. That would benefit our offense as well, but I feel like we’ve shown we can be efficient some different ways offensively.”
How much more efficient has ISU’s offense been than it was last season while creating a Sweet 16 run?
The Cyclones’ adjusted offensive efficiency mark last season sat at 103.1 — a pedestrian 171st nationally, according to KenPom.
This season, ISU has climbed to 93rd in that metric while slipping slightly on the defensive side of the ball to a still-solid 28th. The Cyclones also rank second nationally in defensive turnover percentage and sixth in steal percentage.
“No matter how you play on offense, if you bring it every night on the defensive end, you’ll be in every game you’re in,” said Grill, who drilled 7 of his 11 3-point attempts in the 70-65 victory over North Carolina. “We can compete with anyone in the country when we keep it up on the defensive end.”
Enter the Fighting Hawks (5-3), who were blown out early in the season by seventh-ranked Creighton and Pacific, but have won four of their past five games.
“(They’ve) won three straight and they’re playing confident, and they’re a better team than they were earlier in the year,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve got to turn the page quickly. We’ve got to be ready to play.”