116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — As one cut healed, a fresh one took its place.
Iowa State forward Robert Jones’ left hand is marked by wounds sustained in the past and present, and it serves as a bloody testament to his improvement as a post player.
“Yeah, physical,” the 6-foot-10, 240-pound senior said with a smile. “I got one of these and then right next to it’s another little cut that’s already healed up.”
That’s by design. So expect plenty more scrapes, bumps and bruises to dot Jones’ long limbs after the No. 20 Cyclones (7-1) face Iowa (6-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the annual Cy-Hawk men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
“We’re excited,” said Jones, a former Denver transfer who is averaging ISU career-high numbers in rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. “It’s our first road game this year and I feel like it will be a great test.”
Last season’s Cy-Hawk game served as a revelation of sorts for the Cyclones, who relied on their usual stringent and suffocating defense to beat the Hawkeyes, 73-53, at Hilton Coliseum before forging a stirring Sweet 16 run roughly three months later.
This season’s meeting affords ISU an opportunity to post consecutive wins over the Hawkeyes for the first time since current NBA veterans Monte Morris and Georges Niang were team captains.
“We feel like our guys, they know what our identity is,” Cyclones head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We’ve done it against some really good teams. Certainly, doing it on the road takes a little bit more mental toughness to stay the course when things don’t go your way.”
Jones turned to mental toughness and humility when things weren’t going as well as he’d hoped after transferring in last season.
He averaged 12.1 minutes per game as a junior. He scored in double figures just once in 35 games. He spoke frequently with Otzelberger about finding ways to contribute more.
“When we talked at the conclusion of the year, I made sure that he understood that was all within the realm of his control based on the choices that he made every single day,” Otzelberger said. “Not just practicing hard the day before the game, or feeling like he’s playing hard in the game.
“And Rob committed in this offseason to changing his body. He committed to putting the work in on his game. He’s improved at the foul line. He’s been a low post go-to presence for us, a guy that we throw the ball to in key moments of the game and he’s stepped up.”
Jones put on nearly 15 pounds in the offseason. He honed his technique and toughness, and now provides a valuable and reliable spark off the bench. Jones has scored in double figures in five of the past six games — and will be looked to for more clutch production against the Hawkeyes.
“Rob is being more aggressive on offense,” said fellow senior forward and former transfer Jaz Kunc. “Every time he catches the ball down low, he has that scorer’s mentality instead of kicking it out or trying to find a better play. And defensively he’s always been a unit. We don’t call him ‘Big Rob Energy’ for no reason.”
And no cut, whether old or new, appears to sap that supply, which ISU will need to tap frequently to slow Iowa’s efficient offense in front of its home crowd.
“If you’re a competitor, you want those environments,” Otzelberger said. “You want those challenges.”