By Anthony Hanson, KURE Sports Reporter
AMES – T.J. Otzelberger had a gut feeling about Aljaz Kunc.
He scored 13 points in the last outing for No. 19 Iowa State. The head coach thought Kunc could be Iowa State’s spark to break out of its two-game losing streak.
So, Otzelberger pushed the Iowa State forward back into the starting lineup.
The move paid off.
Kunc led Iowa State in scoring with 22 points Wednesday night as the No. 19 Cyclones defeated the No. 22 TCU Horned Frogs. Iowa State led the entire game and finished on top of TCU 70-59.
The Iowa State forward helped Iowa State stretch the floor with his signature shooting touch. Kunc made five three-point field goals on eight attempts for Iowa State Wednesday, a season-high for Kunc.
He also added five rebounds, a block and a steal to his box score while playing 31 minutes, the most since December 11, 2022.
“He’s just a winning player,” Otzelberger said.
Kunc replaced guard Caleb Grill, who is still dealing with complications of a back injury, in the starting lineup. Grill was 0-for-4 from the field in 12 minutes for Iowa State.
“Even though we didn’t play great on Saturday, I thought he [Kunc] was a bright spot,” Otzelberger said. “I thought we could use that energy and enthusiasm.”
Since returning from a broken figure on February 4, Kunc was two-for-eight behind the three-point line. He scored only three points in his first two games back in the lineup. On Saturday, Kunc led Iowa State with 13 points, but the Cyclones received a frustrating loss.
The reliable shooting of Kunc returned Wednesday night, stretching the floor and opening driving lanes for the Iowa State offense.
“When he’s shooting the ball like he was toady it kind of opens up the floor,” Iowa State center Osun Osunniyi said postgame. “It takes pressure off certain guys.”
Kunc helped his team bounce back from two consecutive losses, including its first loss at home. Iowa State fell to West Virginia and Oklahoma State this past week but returned to the win column and reclaimed its dominance at Hilton Coliseum.
Osunniyi added six points from the inside and five rebounds.
Iowa State also displayed a dominance of the charity stripe.
Against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Iowa State missed opportunities for easy points. The Cyclones made 9-of-19 from the free-throw line facing the Cowboys. Free-throw shooting became the difference maker in Iowa State’s first home loss, with Oklahoma State making 14 free throws on 20 attempts.
In postgame remarks Saturday, Otzelberger admitted the team lost focus. Mental toughness wasn’t there against the Cowboys. The head coach noted, however, the shortcomings of Iowa State are all fixable.
Iowa State was 15-for-17 at the free-throw line Wednesday night against TCU. The Cyclones took advantage of TCU fouls and limited the Horned Frogs made free throws to six.
Iowa State improved one game in the crowded Big 12 standings on Wednesday night. The Cyclones have a conference record of 8-5, one game behind Texas, Kansas and Baylor for the top position.
The Cyclones have a win over each Big 12 opponent, tied for first in the conference. The Cyclones have four games, including two at home, to make a bid for the regular season Big 12 championship.