Iowa State Basketball

More balanced Iowa State shines in second win

By Anthony Hanson, KURE 88.5 Sports Reporter

AMES—Osun Osunniyi scored the first points in Sunday’s win for Iowa State.

He collected a pass underneath the basket from Alijaz Kunc, scored, then immediately raised both his arms, flexing in celebration.

From that first basket, Iowa State did not surrender the lead, winning comfortably over North Carolina A&T 80-43 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones moved to 2-0 on the season with the convincing win.

The Iowa State center’s celebration represents a key contrast from last year’s Cyclones that defied expectations and made the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time in school history.

The 2022-23 Cyclone lineup is bigger, stronger and more balanced on the offensive end.

“We have an offense where everybody touches the ball,” Iowa State forward Alijaz Kunc said.

The bulk of last season’s scoring came from the backcourt, highlighted by mid-range specialist Izaiah Brockington. The Cyclones’ top-five scorers played the guard position in 2021-22. The ball-dominate Brockington was also the Cyclones’ leading rebounder last season.

With both Brockington and second-leading scorer Tyrese Hunter gone, Iowa State displayed its efforts in the transfer portal can help it create more variety on offense and score from all three levels.

On Sunday night, Iowa State’s starting center and forward led the scoring. Kunc finished with 17 points, and the center Osunniyi finished with 16 points. Point guard Jaren Holmes was close behind with 13.

“It’s a more balanced offense for everybody,” Kunc said postgame.

Kunc, the only returning starter from last season, recorded his first career double-double, adding 10 rebounds to his box score. Kunc crashed the glass for five offensive rebounds. Kunc connected for a team-leading two three-point field goals.

In total, Iowa State secured 17 second chances, which led to 20 second chance points. Iowa State won the overall rebounding battle 44-25. Osunniyi, a senior transfer from St. Bonaventure, scored five of his seven field goals in the paint. The starting center stepped out to extend his range with a three-point field goal of his own and a jumper in the second half.

“He [Osunniyi] is certainly a gifted scorer,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said postgame. “I know he can play a lot better than what he’s done. We’re going to continue to challenge him.”

In his final season with St. Bonaventure, Osunniyi averaged 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and earned his second Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year award.

With his 6-foot-10 frame and 7-foot-8 wingspan, Osunniyi is one of 20 players on the watchlist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award that recognizes the nation’s best center.

“He doesn’t realize yet how good of a player he is,” Otzelberger said of the fifth-year senior. “We’re going to keep coaching him to that level of player that he will become.”

Osunniyi has been in double figures twice during the start of Iowa State’s now 2-0 season. Monday evening, he scored 10 and blocked two shots in another convincing win for Iowa State.

“I’ve been working every single day with the staff,” Osunniyi said. “They believe I can be a really good player.”

The Cyclones will next face Milwaukee at Hilton Coliseum in the final game before Iowa State heads to the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.

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