Iowa State men's basketball squanders double-digit lead in Big 12 loss at Kansas State

1 month ago The Des Moines Register

Iowa State men's basketball squanders double-digit lead in Big 12 loss at Kansas Stateplay

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Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger on Markquis Nowell’s big second half

Markquis Nowell ignited Kansas State in the second half of Saturday's game in Manhattan.

Travis Hines, Des Moines Register

MANHATTAN, Kan. – It happened again. 

No. 18 Iowa State squandered another double-digit lead in a men's basketball road game and fell Saturday to No. 14 Kansas State, 61-55, at Bramlage Coliseum. 

The Cyclones (17-9, 8-6) led in the first half by 10 and went into halftime up eight, but were quickly surpassed in the second half by the Wildcats (20-7, 8-6). 

Much of the damage was done by a brutal second half offensively for Iowa State, which shot 21.9 percent from the floor after halftime. The Cyclones did not score a basket in the game’s final 5 minutes until Gabe Kalscheur’s inconsequential 3 at the final buzzer. 

"It’s frustrating because of the first half we put together," senior forward Jaz Kunc said, "but basketball is two halves, 40 minutes, and we’ve got to make sure when we come out of the locker room for the second half we bring the same energy we do for the start of the game."

The loss joins the ranks of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, games in which the Cyclones held big leads on the road only to end up with a loss. They surrendered a 16-point lead at Oklahoma but ultimately defeated the Sooners. 

Iowa State, which won its first two Big 12 road games of the season, has now dropped six straight road games. 

Jaren Holmes and Kalscheur, Iowa State’s two leading scorers, combined to shoot 6 of 30 from the floor. 

Markquis Nowell had a game-high 20 for Kansas State. 

Iowa State heads to face Big 12 leader and fifth-ranked Texas on Tuesday. 

An opportunity missed for Iowa State

Like most of Iowa State’s road losses, Saturday was not some critical defeat that will scuttle its NCAA Tournament seeding. It was just another missed opportunity. 

The Cyclones have had chances to claim oh-so-difficult Big 12 road wins on a number of occasions, only to have come tantalizingly close but to no avail. Iowa State has played well enough to win in each of their Big 12 road losses. 

Winning any combination – or just one – would have put the Cyclones in markedly better position both in the Big 12 regular-season race and their bid for a top tournament seed and a spot in the Des Moines NCAA Tournament grouping. 

The margins are so small that it will be easy for Iowa State to look back at its Big 12 slate and wonder what the impact of just a small amount of better play would have had on their already successful season. 

Iowa State has already accomplished more than expected and the Cyclones still have Des Moines in play, but the what-ifs may ultimately haunt them. 

Cyclone guard Caleb Grill sits again 

Caleb Grill, who has started 22 games this season, missed his second game of the season as his back injury continues to linger. 

The senior guard first aggravated it on Jan. 17 against Texas, and he had been trying to play through the pain. He missed most of the second half at Oklahoma State on Jan. 21, and missed the Cyclones’ loss at Missouri on Jan. 28. 

After sitting the Missouri game, Iowa State hoped Grill’s back issues were behind him as he played at least 35 minutes in four straight games. Wednesday against TCU, though, Grill came off the bench and played just 13 minutes. He went 0 of 4 from the field and posting a -16 plus/minus in an 11-point Cyclone win. It was clear that Grill was ailing physically. 

"It really is day to day – how is it feeling, what’s he able to do in practice," Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. "It just hasn’t been feeling good for him. It’s been tightening up. We’ve got to trust him in terms of what he can give us.

"He’s certainly done a great job giving to the team and being out there when he can and giving us on a lot of nights enough to be successful, and today that wasn’t where it was at. We’ll continue to re-evaluate, see where things are going in our game on Tuesday."


Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger discusses Caleb Grill's injury

The Iowa State coach provides an update on Caleb Grill's ailing back.

Travis Hines, Des Moines Register

Cyclones' offensive woes

Grill's absence is a single problem that quickly cascades into a series of issues.

Without him available for 35-plus minutes, Iowa State has to ask each of its players to do more than they're usually tasked with during a game. Iowa State's success has largely been constructed on its pieces fitting well together, and, with a roster that does not have an abundance of offensive talent, when one piece is taken away, the wheels stop spinning.

"It throws our balance, our equilibrium off a little bit that we’ve built over the course of the season," Otzelberger said. "When our team is playing our best, you usually look at the box score and it’s (balanced scoring) and now it’s a little more challenged that way.

"Other guys stepping up is going to be important. "

What simply can't happen is Iowa State's two best and most experienced scorers - Holmes and Kalscheur - struggling to the degree they did against the Wildcats. At least not if Iowa State is going to leave the building with a victory.

Holmes was 2 of 16 from the floor, 0 of 4 from deep and committed three turnovers. Kalscheur was 4 of 14 overall, 3 of 12 from distance and also tallied three turnovers.

"They’re taking some challenge shots, and more than anything we’ve got to finish the plays at the rim," Otzelberger said. "Those are guys that have led us in scoring all year, and those are the guys we’re encouraging to take those opportunities. I believe over time it will work itself out for us and for the most part it has. We’re going to continue to put the ball and shots in those guys’ hands and put our trust in them."

Without Grill's 37.7 percent 3-point shooting, spacing becomes a real issue for Iowa State.

Teams are already laying off point guard Tamin Lipsey, who is 4 of 21 (19 percent) from 3-point range on the season, and Iowa State can't replace Grill in the backcourt with anyone who approaches his level of shooting skill. It also stresses Iowa State's ballhandling, which could help account for Lipsey's six turnovers vs. K-State, and essentially eliminates any true four-guard lineups.

Grill's back previously responded well to time off, and the Cyclones will be desperately hoping it does once again.

Iowa State a 3 seed in selection committee's reveal 

Iowa State got some encouraging news before tipoff. 

The Cyclones were seeded 11th overall in the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s bracket preview released Saturday. 

That would put Iowa State as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament as things stood heading into Saturday’s action.

It’s an incredibly advantageous place for Iowa State to be, even with the road loss to Kansas State, with just a few weeks left in the season. With Des Moines set to host a first-and-second-round pod at Wells Fargo Arena, a high seed could keep the Cyclones just a short drive down Interstate 35 for the tournament’s opening weekend. 

The last time the Cyclones were seeded as high as third in the NCAA Tournament came in 2014 and 2015. They made the Sweet 16 in 2014, but were upset in the first round of the 2015 tournament by UAB.

Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or  (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.
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