‘He’s a force:’ Jones and No. 23 Iowa State top St. Johns

Iowa State shooting guard Caleb Grill warms up prior to his seven-point and 10-rebound performance against St. Johns on Dec. 4, 2022.

By Anthony Hanson, KURE 88.5 Sports reporter

AMES—After a sluggish start Wednesday night, No. 23 Iowa State flipped the script on St. Johns.

Head coach T.J. Otzelberger and company admitted fatigue was a factor in the first half of Iowa State’s win over North Dakota. The Cyclones were without their signature energy and intensity and knew they needed to find it before the upcoming week of games.

Sunday, Iowa State was the aggressor out of the gate. They handed St. Johns its first loss of the season in the Big 12/Big EAST battle by a score of 71-60 at Hilton Coliseum.

It was the Iowa State opponent starting sluggish. St. Johns, running a full-court press and transition-based offense, never found momentum.

The relentless Cyclone defense protected its basket for the first nine minutes and 54 seconds and allowed to Cyclones to jump out of a 24-7 lead. The Red Storm finished the game shooting 35.8 percent from the field.

“That’s who we want to be,” Iowa State center Osun Osunniyi said postgame. “We want to dictate teams’ offense- frustrate teams, get them out of their comfort zone.”

The team from the Big EAST conference struggled but didn’t surrender. St. Johns hung around, and as emotions flared, Iowa State’s hot start slowed. Two pairs of double technical fouls were given to Iowa State and St. Johns. Another was charged to St. Johns head coach Mike Anderson. All five technical fouls were whistled in the first half of Sunday’s game.

After the final pair of double technical fouls, St. Johns had trimmed the Iowa State lead to 10 points. St. Johns never cut the Cyclone lead under ten points after the initial scoring push by Iowa State.

“We knew there could be things like that happening in the game, and we need to do a better job of not reacting,” Otzelberger said. “They’re going to be times games get chippy moving forward, and we got to have the mental toughness to do what we do and not worry about it.”

Iowa State was led offensively by point guard Jaren Holmes with 14 points. Holmes connected twice from three-point range on two attempts. Holmes was joined by Alijaz Kunc and Robert Jones in double figures.

Jones scored 11 points while recording a new season high. He posted double-figure scoring for the fifth time this season. In his first season at Iowa State a year ago, Jones scored double figures once.

Sunday, he played 20 minutes off the bench. Jones energized the crowd with a transition dunk before being charged with his fifth foul with two minutes remaining.

“He’s a force,” Holmes said postgame about Jones. “The fans love to see that personality and that toughness, but I expect that from him because he shows that every single day.”

The Iowa State center has had ten or more points in five of the last six Iowa State games. Jones scored zero in Iowa State’s only loss of the season to UCONN in the Phil Knight Invitational championship game.

“There were some times last season and into the postseason that we challenged Robert,” Otzelberger said. “We knew he was capable of more.”

“Now he’s a focal point of what we do.”

Jones averaged 2.9 points per game last season and has started his 2022-23 campaign averaging 7.4 points to go with 3.0 rebounds per game. Sunday, Jones found his teammates for three assists in the game.

Iowa State will next face in-state rival Iowa on the road in Iowa City. The game will cap off the most difficult stretch of Iowa State’s non-conference schedule. Iowa State will enter the matchup 7-1.

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