Iowa State University Cyclone center Osun Osunniyi (21) reacts after a dunk against Milwaukee in the first half at the Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, November 20, 2022, in Ames, Iowa. Photo by Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune
PORTLAND—Osun Osunniyi knew the ball was coming his way when Iowa State broke the huddle in Portland Thursday with 43 seconds on the clock and a two-point lead over Villanova in overtime.
The 6-foot-10 transfer center St. Bonaventure secured his way to the post, his defender flopped backwards, he spun and put the ball off the glass unchallenged with 36 seconds left.
Villanova’s Caleb Daniels drove the baseline towards Osunniyi on the ensuing possession, and Daniels’ baseline floater almost found its way into the seats when the two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year smashed it away.
Seconds later, the Iowa State Freshman Point Guard Tamin Lipsey made an over-the-shoulder steal and was promptly fouled. He calmly walked to the line and knocked down four straight free throws to thwart the basketball game.
Those free throws that sealed the deal were big, especially considering Iowa State gambled away a 16-point lead in the second half and still appeared to have control of the game at the U4 timeout before the contest somehow found its way to extra time.
There was a lot going on in Portland on Thursday, but everything finally turned toward Iowa State when Osunniyi stepped out of the scrum knowing the ball was coming his way.
“(The coaches) just gave me the confidence to go get a bucket,” Osunniyi said, recalling that timeout late in extra time. “We work every day. You trust me every day. They name games for me. You have faith in me. It helps me get out there and do what I do.”
Iowa State made a significant and concerted effort to put the ball on the post against the Wildcats. With Villanova switching all the screens, Otzelberger and his staff felt they could score some favorable matchups for Osunniyi and Robert Jones.
You were right.
The pair each posted double-digit results, with Osunniyi hitting an efficient 17 points on 8 of 10 from the field with five rebounds while Jones had 10 points and five boards.
Both players finished the game strong on the edge and didn’t shy away from overtaking the smaller defenders. It’s a trend that points to one of the biggest differences between this team and last year’s roster.
In five games, Iowa State shoots 56 percent on two-pointers, an improvement of almost six percentage points over last year’s team, who ranked somewhere in the mid-150s on that statistic.
This year’s team is in the top 50 at this point.
So while this team probably won’t have many nights shooting the ball from deep, they will be much more efficient and consistent on the edge.
Iowa State shot 8-of-28 from 3-point range against Villanova, including a 5-of-15 from a deep split for gift calscheur that felt much more efficient at the moment than the stat sheet would suggest.
The Cyclones needed all five of those Kalscheur 3-pointers to win this game, but it was the ability to generate turnover defensively, force Villanova to hit hard when they weren’t turning it over, and then close the rim over the top land favorable pairings that the Cyclones actually won that game.
“We talked a lot in our pre-season about going to the post office and being really stubborn,” said the head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “If they want to play one-on-one against us, our lads have to trust themselves, go deeper off the post, use their dribbling, get the ball on goal and then end a game. Osun has done a phenomenal job on this. Certainly not a bigger basket at this point in the game. So something we emphasized, something we talked about and it’s great to see our guys delivering the track.”
There will be a different kind of challenge for Osunniyi, Jones and VCU moving forward Hason Wardwho scored four points against Villanova on Friday when Iowa State takes on No. 1 North Carolina.
Perhaps no player in college basketball benefited more from last year’s NCAA tournament than Armando Bacot. He became the first player in NCAA tournament history to record six straight double-doubles.
That success propelled his team to a national second place finish and propelled him to college hoop superstar status, earning significant paychecks through NIL, earning preseason All-American honors and even landing a guest-star role on the hit Netflix teen -Drama Outer Banks.
Bacot’s return to Chapel Hill, along with veteran guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis, and Northwestern transfer forward Pete Nance, make the Tar Heels one of the favorites to lead the table this season.
However, Hubert Davis’ team was vulnerable up to that point, being sidelined by Portland in their first-round game on Thursday.
Bacot quietly scored 11 points and 13 rebounds, but it was Nance who led the way for Carolina by scoring 28 points, hitting 5-of-8 from 3-point range and catching seven rebounds in his baby blue burst.
These two players will put the redesigned Iowa State Courtyard to the test for the first time when Osunniyi headlines against Bacot.
“He’s one of the best bigs in the country,” said Osunniyi. “That will be funny. I look forward to the challenge. We’re going back to a hotel today and preparing a game plan, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Osunniyi came to the state of Iowa with the aim of demonstrating his skills to improve his professional record. That requires playing against the best college basketball it has to offer.
If you want to prove that you’re the best defensive big man in college basketball and deserve to be part of the discussion about the best big man in college basketball, who better place to prove it to than one of the best bigs Men in college basketball on a big stage in an NBA arena?
“I have enormous confidence in our guys at the front,” said Otzelberger. “I know they’re a program that has traditionally played two frontline guys and likes to go in too. I know our guys will be up to the challenge and we’re looking forward to getting out there tomorrow because we go in and have faith and confidence in our guys. You go in, we go in and we’ll see what happens.”