His first shot went in, then grabbed the first rebound on the other end of the court and looked as if he'd never missed a beat as he led the Cyclones to their second victory of the young season with a sparkling line of 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
"Jackson Vroman made a huge difference," said Panther coach Greg McDermott. "I'm not sure they beat us this afternoon without him on the floor. I thought emotionally he gave them a great lift. When (Jared) Homan got in foul trouble they had Jackson to fall back on."
Jackson's dunk off a fast break to give the Cyclones a 64-58 lead sent the Iowa State crowd of 9,690 into a frenzy and seemed to jump start the Hilton magic of old.
"I thought he was great," Morgan said. "Our kids like Jackson a lot and he provides great leadership."
Despite Jackson's heroics, the game was anything but a gimme as the Panthers battled back from deficits time and time again aided by an outstanding 10 of 24 three point shooting performance. No fewer than six of the visitors from Cedar Falls nailed treys, led by senior Matt Schneiderman with three. The 6-7 senior from Marshalltown might have one of the best inside-outside games the Cyclones will see this year as he led his team with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Even though the Cyclones held leads of up to 10 points, they could never shake the Panthers and only a missed three pointer by Eric Crawford as time expired kept the game from going into overtime. Iowa State was sitting on a 74-64 lead after Vroman's basket with 3:21 left, but three Northern Iowa 3-pointers allowed them to cut the score to 78-76 with only 6.8 seconds left in the game. Cyclone forward Marcus Jefferson missed on the second of two free throws which allowed the Panthers one more trip down the court for a shot at the final buzzer.
"I thought Northern Iowa played a terrific game," Morgan said. "They did everything they needed to do except win. Our kids did make the plays they had to to come back and win the game. I think it's good to have a game like that that is close and hard."
Northern Iowa's last four losses have been on last second shots.
"This is getting old for us," McDermott said. "We lost all four - that stings a little."
McDermott was taking no solace in the fact that the Panthers played the Cyclones such a tight game at Hilton.
"I think you have moral victories when you have a bad team," he said. "We feel like we're going in the right direction with our program, we just need to be rewarded with some victories."
Sullivan, for one, believes those victories will come for Northern Iowa.
"They're a great team, they've got a lot of experience, they've got everyone back," he said. "They do a great, great job. I'd be surprised if they don't win their league."
Sullivan had a relatively quiet game with 11 points, but the senior captain was not frustrated despite the fact that UNI neutralized the Cyclone guards offensively. For a player noted for his offensive output, Sullivan's did an outstanding defensive job on leading Panther scorer Ben Jacobson.
"That's my job this year, to win games and get to a 20 win total," Sullivan said. "We want to prove a lot of people wrong and get to 20 wins."
He also emphasized that despite Vroman's outstanding game, the most impressive aspect of the outing was the team's overall performance.
"I don't think we win the game without Jackson," he said. "But I don't think we win without Curtis, I don't think we win without Will --- it's a team effort. It's great to have (Vroman) back, he's a great player, but it's a team effort."
Center Jared Homan was called for his third foul with 5:10 still left in the first half. After playing only 20 minutes, he eventually fouled out with 3:45 left in the game, but with Vroman back in the lineup, the Cyclones inside game was too much for the Panthers to overcome.
Vroman's off-the-court problems and his stunning first performance back guarantee that the senior's every move will be scrutinized this season, and he knows it.
"I have to be really careful," Vroman said. "I can't put myself in any compromising situations."
So far, he's back on track asthe Cyclones enjoyed their second victory of the season and gave coach Wayne Morgan his first intrastate rivalry victory.
Next up for the team is the Cyclone Challenge on December 5 against IPFW.
Rebounding woes - For the second game in a row, the Cyclones were out-rebounded by their opponent, even as they secured victories. UNI bested the Cyclones on the boards 40-32.
Balanced scoring - The Cyclone guards combined for 33 points, even though Northern Iowa's game plan was focused on shutting down ISU's perimeter. In addition to Sullivan's 11, freshmen Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock added 12 and 10 points respectively with two assists and three turnovers apiece.
New Panther fans - The Iowa State crowd became aware during the game of what the Cyclone players and coaches already knew - that Northern Iowa is a really talented team with great balance and coaching. "A lot of those shots they made were long threes with people jumping at them," ISU coach Morgan said. "Those were tough, tough shots." The Panthers' main problem seems to be turnovers. They had 19 in the game, many of them "self-inflicted" in the words of coach McDermott.
Vroman didn't know what to expect - The only thing Jackson Vroman was sure of before Saturday's game is that he wasn't going to start. "I didn't know how many minutes I would play," he said. "I'm just happy to be back. It was really gratifying to contribute. I'm really appreciating being on the court more than ever now." Some were surprised by Vroman's conditioning, as he played 28 minutes in his first competition against an outside opponent. But Jackson, who's been working out constantly since last season said, "It's not like I've been sitting around on my couch the last couple of weeks."
Sullivan on Vroman's leadership - "I think both him and Homan are very, very focused. He's a 6-10 guy so you'd better listen."
Homan takes it in the shorts - Referee David Hall sent Jared Homan to the bench with 12:46 left in the first half. It turns out that Homan couldn't keep his shirt tucked in, as NCAA rules require. "We're having problems with our uniforms," Homan said. "Our shorts don't have elastic in them." Homan returned shortly thereafter and played tough throughout until foul problems sent him to the bench for good.
Iowa State's Jackson Vroman, center, drives to the hoop between Northern Iowa's Matt Schneiderman, left, and David Gruber in the second half. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)
Iowa State's Will Blalock guards Northern Iowa's Brooks McKowen, front, in the second half. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)
Iowa State's Marcus Jefferson (50) and Northern Iowa's Jon Godfread battle for a rebound in the first half. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)