A Bitter End

It wasn't supposed to end this way, but it did. Yet again Steve Alford's Iowa Hawkeyes play the role of spoiler before a sellout crowd at Hilton Coliseum on Friday night and ended Iowa State's up-and-down men's basketball season in the process.

Ames, Ia. -- The crowd was ready. It's too bad Iowa State's basketball team wasn't.

They tell me that Coach Larry Eustachy was giving away pizza to some of the fans who waited in line Thursday to buy tickets to the Cyclones' NIT game Friday night against Iowa.

Hey, a slice of pepperoni wouldn't have been nearly enough Friday.

The way Iowa State performed in its 54-53 loss to the Hawkeyes before a roaring sellout crowd of 14,020 at Hilton Coliseum, Eustachy and athletic director Bruce Van De Velde should consider giving $15 refunds to the Cyclone fans who paid $20 for their tickets to the game.

Cyclone guards Jake Sullivan and Tim Barnes were a combined 4-for-26 on field goals--3-for-18 on three-pointers—in what was the most disappointing loss of a season that's finally over.

The game wasn't on TV, and thank God for that.

The people who weren't able to buy tickets had to listen to it on the radio. That way, they didn't have to see the pictures.

And they didn't have to watch Iowa State get out-shot, out-rebounded and out-played in front of fans who tried their damndest to will their team a victory.

But it was not to be. Not after Barnes' 15-foot shot as time expired—or maybe after time expired—refused to go in.

A guy on press row—not me—thought he saw one of the officials gesture that the shot wouldn't have counted because Barnes got it off too late. No one else—certainly not Barnes—was willing to verify that.

"I just heard the buzzer," Barnes said. "I knew the game was over."

If the shot was going to be ruled no good, it's probably a good thing it didn't go in. Can you imagine the riot that likely would have taken place if the zebras had waved off the basket?

The officials—Frank Spencer, Dave Cronin and Rodney Chamberlain—were booed most of the night anyway by Iowa State's frustrated fans.

Well, look at it this way. It's obvious that three guys working an NIT game at this time of the year aren't among the top zebras in the nation anyway. The best ones are in the NCAA tournament.

The three in Ames were probably on their way to a weekend junior college tournament somewhere.

But it made no difference. Iowa State (17-14) didn't deserve to win.

Just think, it was Eustachy who said earlier this week that he was glad his team was playing Iowa again. Indeed, he'd like the teams to go at it twice each season.

But, after what happened Friday, it's Iowa (17-13), which lost to Iowa State, 73-69, at home Dec. 13, that will play Georgia Tech in Iowa City on Monday in the next round of the NIT.

Sullivan can go get his sore right hand examined by a doctor, and he and the rest of the players—at least the guys with eligibility left—can pack away their uniforms until next season.

By the way, the crowd was, indeed, a sellout—the first at Hilton Coliseum since Iowa won there in December, 2001--even though it was below the usual capacity figure of 14,092.

An Iowa State official told me it was a full house because seats behind the band couldn't be sold due to blocked visibility. Bands from both schools were present, and those trumpet players and other noise-makers stand up a lot, so tickets weren't sold in the seats immediately behind them.

"This was a disappointing loss," Sullivan said in a stroke of understatement.

The man who never met a shot he didn't like was successful on just three of 16 attempts and was only 2-for-10 from three-point distance while being patrolled most of the time by Hawkeye freshman Jeff Horner.

"We thought we had the game, but Iowa thought they had the game down at their place," Sullivan said.

"They did a very good defensive job on us. They made us shoot from the perimeter. At this time of the year, it's a 50-50 thing from the perimeter. You might have a great night, you might have a bad night. Your legs are tired and stuff like that.

"They contained my penetration and they contained Timmy's penetration. We missed shots. It's that simple. It was a great ballgame—I wish we'd shot better, but that's the way it goes."

Sullivan, who was averaging 17.3 points, scored eight. Barnes, who was averaging 11.6, scored three.

With 3 minutes 55 seconds left in the game, Sullivan jumped in the air in pain with an obvious hand injury.

"I dislocated my right knuckle," he explained. "They popped it back in. I might have broken it. I'll have X-rays, and we'll see what happens."

That's not the only medical attention Sullivan will need. Eustachy added that Jake "has a ruptured tendon in his ankle that requires surgery."

Barnes, whose only basket in 10 tries was a three-pointer with 3:05 remaining that tied the game, 49-49, said Iowa's defense "kind of bothered us, but we should have executed better."

Eustachy said he didn't intend to call a timeout to set up a shot at the end of the game.

"I've never in my life called a timeout in that type of situation," he said. "Our plan was to get the ball in Tim's hands and let him go. He can get down there real quick. But it just didn't work out."

Jackson Vroman led the Cyclones with 20 points and nine rebounds, but he missed two free throws with the score tied, 53-53, and 21.6 seconds remaining. The first miss was an air ball. The second wasn't much better.

After Vroman fouled out with 21.6 seconds to go, Brody Boyd's free throw gave Iowa the point it needed to win.

Iowa State shot only 28.6 percent and trailed, 26-19, at halftime. The Cyclones fell behind by 11 points with 7:38 left in the game, but Vroman and Jared Homan, who scored 14 points, were instrumental in bringing them back.

Horner's three-point basket with 43.4 seconds to play tied the game, 53-53.

Somehow, Eustachy found a silver lining in the loss.

"I've never been prouder of any team I've ever coached in my life than this one," he said. "I'm proud of their effort. They really battled. But we just couldn't find the basket at times."

For the game, Iowa State shot only 34.5 percent to Iowa's 46.3 percent. The Hawkeyes won the rebounding battle, 35-30.

Glen Worley, who fouled out with 2:13 left, scored 13 points, Chauncey Leslie 11 and Sean Sonderleiter 10 for Iowa.

After the victory, Iowa coach Steve Alford was led to an area at Hilton Coliseum where he had to lean against a wall to conduct his postgame interview.

A banner that said "NIT" was taped to the wall. TV cameras and tape recorders were in front of his face.

"Nice press room," he said tongue-in-cheek.

No matter.

The man was happy.

And, don't forget, this is the man who gets criticized often by the people who buy tickets to his games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

But give the guy some credit. Alford is doing his best coaching job in his four seasons at Iowa. He's taken a team that was expected to do very little this season, and he has won 17 games.

Alford said he and his staff "really challenged our guards tonight because I thought Sullivan and Barnes were big keys to Iowa State's game."

"Both Chauncey and Jeff outscored the two players they were guarding. Anytime you can come into this building—as loud as it gets—and hold them to 34 percent shooting and 53 points and out-rebound them, I couldn't be more proud of how our guys guarded them."

At the end, Alford said "this place was going nuts and we found a way to win."

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