ROB GRAY Lee correspondent
AMES — Jaren Holmes knocked down the layup, absorbing contact and staring at the courtside camera en route to a 3-point game.
The Iowa State senior’s first photogenic moment came early Tuesday in a tense 80-76 win over No. 5 Kansas State, but the graduate transfer from St. Bonaventure never left the frame.
He remained sharp in focus, capping the triumph that catapulted the Cyclones to a tie at the top of the conference standings in 12th place, starring in a high-pressure, climactic close-up at the free-throw line, where he pocketed two game-winning shots with a second remaining .
“I was just taking a deep breath and thinking I’m in the driveway with my little brother,” said Holmes, who scored 18 of his ISU career with 23 points in the second half. “This little happy place. There is no one. Just me and him. And it was just like that. I knocked her out when I was younger and I knocked her out tonight.”
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The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2) and Wildcats (17-3, 6-2) now sit first in the Big 12 with Texas beating Oklahoma State at home on Tuesday.
ISU head coach TJ Otzelberger scored his 10th win against a top 25 opponent in less than two seasons – and it was the Cyclones’ first triumph over a top 5 opponent since 2019.
“They earn their faith every day,” Otzelberger said of his team. “Our guys earn that every day by how they work, how they work together. Winning the games certainly confirms that, but their faith and confidence – I was really impressed with their preparation for this game, as well as last week, both of whom suffered losses.”
ISU guard Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points on 7 of 11 shots. Striker Osun Osunniyi scored 16 points and two well-blocked shots. Cyclone freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey scored 10 points, hit six team-high rebounds, dished four assists and nabbed three team-high steals.
The Cyclones led twice in the second half by as many by 10 points, but the Wildcats fought their way back into the game each time, behind 3-point clutch shooting and aggressive backdoor cuts for easy layups. Kansas state point guard Marquis Nowell scored 18 of his 23 second-half points, including three free throws that set the stage for Holmes’ commanding performance at the center of the game in the final tick of the game.
“We need to watch movies and get better from that,” Nowell said. “Wash it down. We’ll see her down the street.”
ISU outscored the Wildcats in points in color (34-28) and in points before turnovers (25-13), but never quite pulled clear until the end.
“I think I have a strong team,” said Jerome Tang, Kansas State’s freshman head coach. “TJ also has a strong team. Those are the Big 12.”
For this reason, tough is the operative term to describe Tuesday’s game along with the full 18-game round-robin schedule. It’s also a good word when discussing Cyclone Guard Caleb Grill’s performance while struggling with apparent back pain. Grill drilled two free throws with 11 seconds left to give ISU what appeared to be a crucial 78-73 lead, but then fouled Nowell on a subsequent 3-point try at the other end. Nowell did all three. Then Holmes made the biggest two – and not in a driveway, but in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,267, who erupted when his second shot sliced through the net.
“He really comes into play for us,” Otzelberger said of Holmes, who has lost 8 of his 11 field goal attempts. “Last week at home (beat Texas) was a big game but this is even better. The guy works like crazy. He loves being here. His energy and enthusiasm – he’s a competitor but he always has that smile on his face.”
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