AMES, Iowa (AP)Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger figured the time was right to try something new following losses in four of five games.
So he inserted Aljaz Kunc into the starting lineup for the first time in almost two months to give the team a different look and give Caleb Grill’s sore back a rest.
Kunc responded with career highs of 22 points and five 3-pointers, and No. 19 Iowa State never trailed in a 70-59 win over 22nd-ranked TCU on Wednesday night.
”Man, he stepped up in a major way,” Otzelberger said. ”Offensively he was so effective. He makes 3s. He’s a winning player. You have him out there and you can tell the ball moves better. He just understands how to play and what we need, and then defensively and on the glass he does such a good job. It’s great seeing him back playing the way we know he can play.”
The Cyclones won their nation-best seventh game against a Top 25 opponent after losing 64-56 at home to Oklahoma State last weekend.
”I liked what I saw from `Jaz’ even though we didn’t play great Saturday,” Otzelberger said. ”I thought he was a bright spot and thought we could use that energy and enthusiam.”
Jaren Holmes added 16 points for the Cyclones (17-8, 8-5), who took sole possession of fourth place in the Big 12, one game behind co-leaders Kansas, Texas and Baylor.
TCU (17-9, 6-7) lost its fourth straight while playing its fifth game without injured conference preseason player of the year and leading scorer Mike Miles Jr.
Kunc, playing his fourth game since missing six weeks with a broken finger, made four of his 3s in the first half and hit his fifth midway through the second to restore the Cyclones’ double-digit lead after TCU erased much of a 21-point deficit.
”When he’s knocking down shots like he did today, it opens up the floor and takes a lot of pressure off certain guys,” center Osun Osunniyi said. ”It sets the tone for the game. They can’t sag off and help in the paint as much because we have shooters.”
TCU coach Jamie Dixon said the Horned Frogs lost track of Kunc too many times.
”When we guarded, he fell down and shot an air ball,” Dixon said. ”You can’t give them catch-and-shoots. He’s a good player when you leave him open, and we left him open plenty. Congratulations to him.”
The Horned Frogs got 15 points from Shahada Wells and 13 from Micah Peavy.
The Cyclones swept the season series. Gabe Kalscheur’s 3-pointer with 2 seconds to play gave Iowa State a 69-67 win at TCU on Jan. 7.
There was no drama in the return game at Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State got out to a quick 15-2 lead, withstood a TCU run that made it a one-point game and then outscored the Horned Frogs 29-12 spanning the halves to win for the first time in three games.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are on their longest losing streak since they dropped four in a row to end the 2020-21 season. Help is on the way. Miles, who averages 18 points per game, is expected to return Saturday for a home game against Oklahoma State.
”We’re not playing as good as we’ve played. We’re searching,” Dixon said. ”We haven’t gotten it done on the road against good teams.”
Iowa State: The Cyclones, one of the top defensive teams in the nation, never let TCU’s vaunted fast break get going and have won 11 straight when holding their opponent under 60 points.
Iowa State entered the game off losses in four of five games but was in total control and could make a big jump if it knocks off No. 12 Kansas State on Saturday. The Horned Frogs’ status as a Top 25 team is in peril as they began a three-games-in-six-days stretch.
HOME SWEET HILTON
The game was the 800th in program history in Hilton Coliseum, the Cyclones’ home arena since 1971. The Cyclones own a 595-205 record at Hilton and are 13-1 at home this season.
TCU: hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday looking to avenge its 79-73 loss two weeks ago.
Iowa State: visits No. 12 Kansas State, which it beat 80-76 in Ames last month.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25