Busting Brackets

Iowa State's T.J. Otzelberger discusses his team's heartbreaking loss to Illinois in the Sweet 16

After his team fell to Illinois in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night, Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger discussed the loss and why his team came up short.
South Dakota State v Iowa State
South Dakota State v Iowa State / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Thursday night, Iowa State's season came to a heartbreaking end as the No. 2 seed Cyclones fell to No. 3 seed Illinois 72-69 in the Sweet 16. After the game. head coach T.J. Otzelberger discussed the defeat with the media.

"First of all, I would like to give the credit to Illinois to Coach Underwood, their program, their players," he said. "They've had a terrific season that will be continuing, and they are very well-prepared, very well-coached.

"They play well together as a team, and they deserve the credit for the win tonight. I'm proud of our guys for how we continued to fight back after a slow start. I thought we showed a lot of competitive spirit, but for us to be successful against a really good team, we've got to do some things in the margins better in terms of scoring off turnovers. We've got to rebound a little better and some things like that that could have put us in a different position.

"So proud of our guys. A lot of credit to Illinois for the job they did."

In a game that his team never led, it was obvious that the Cyclones were not the aggressor. Otzelberger discussed why his team wasn't its typically aggressive self, especially early in the game when Illinois seized control.

"We certainly take pride in being that team," he said. "Felt like didn't do the job we needed to do from the jump.

"Seemed like we came out a little tight, for whatever reason. We're at our best when we're dictating and pressuring the basketball and when we're chasing down rebounds and we're attacking off turnovers.

"We weren't able to do those things to the level that -- or the standard that we try to uphold today."

The Cyclones did make a second-half charge and even got to within two points on a couple of occasions. However, ISU couldn't get over the hump and Otzelberger talked about why.

"They play very hard," he said. "They have great effort going into the offensive glass. They're going to make you earn it. We had some opportunities, and I think mentally you get over that hump, and you tie the game. If you are fortunate enough to take the lead, it has a whole different mental effect on because our guys know they've continued to battle back.

"You know, unfortunately, we weren't able to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves, and Illinois also did a very good job of not allowing anything to come easy for us.

Illinois is a veteran team full of upperclassmen. Otzelberger talked about how the Illini's age and subsequent physicality proved to be a problem.

"They start 6'6" and bigger at every position," he noted. "They did a good job of being the aggressor I felt like defensively. They did a great job kind of pushing us out where we were running our offense. That physicality also on the glass played an impact on both sides.

"Then they were able from an offensive standpoint, especially in the first half, to be the aggressor driving the ball at us, and we didn't do the job we needed to do. They're definitely older, experienced, veteran group with some bigger bodies, and they were the more physical team for a large part of the game."

Finally, Otzelberger talked about the season as a whole, which saw his Cyclones finish second in the Big 12 regular season race and win the Big 12 Tournament Championship. Naturally, he had plenty of praise for his players.

"Yeah, I think a lot of those guys," he said, "hopefully, those are tears that they have a tremendous sense of pride in the work that they did every single day. We challenge them from the time they arrive in the summer how we will do things on a daily basis. It's not for everybody, but they've done as well in embracing that job and hitting it head-on as anybody could.

"If you look at how they will be remembered, they've elevated our program. They've continued to move our program forward. To do what we did on our home court, to do what we did in the Big 12 Conference, to make the run we've made late and to play the way we've played, they should be remembered as a group that was extremely hard-working, that made each other better, and a group that the unity that they had allowed them to play at a higher level as a group maybe than the parts because they were so committed to one another.

"Really proud of them. It's a very fun team to coach and great guys to be around every day."