After building up a 17 point lead early in the game while Drake was missing 10 of its first 11 shots, the Cyclones were forced to overcome a furious rally in the second half which saw the Bulldogs take a 66-65 lead at the 5:13 mark in the second half. Freshman Klayton Korver nailed three straight three pointers and Joshua Robinson added one of his four to key the Drake comeback.
It turned out to be a stern test for the Cyclones as they won their first road game of the year and the first in Drake's Knapp Center since 1995.
"If you are a resident of the state of Iowa tonight, you saw a great college basketball game," Iowa State Coach Wayne Morgan said. "Both teams played as hard as they could. I give all the credit in the world to the Drake team.
The ISU coaches had scripted the game perfectly. They had anticipated Drake using a box and one defense to bottle up sharp shooter Jake Sullivan. He was constantly shadowed throughout the game by a series of different Bulldogs, but still managed to hit three highly contested threes early on.
ISU had prepared Blalock and Stinson to step up to the challenge and they answered in fine fashion, which portends well for the rest of the Cyclones' season as opponents will begin to figure out that they can't disregard them and will have to take the heat off Sullivan
"My two freshmen were terrific," Morgan said. "The shots Will made down the stretch were incredible and he only had four turnovers. Curtis Stinson never came out (40 minutes) and the line (8 pts, 6 rbs, 9 assists, 2 steals) he had doesn't even remotely begin to show all he did and how valuable he was."
Complicating matters for the Cyclones were foul troubles for big men Homan and Vroman. Homan had to sit down with his third foul after being whistled for a technical after shoving a Drake's David Bancroft with 14:52 left in the first half. Vroman also rode the bench with foul problems most of the first half and the two players who gave the Cyclones a decided height advantage over the Bulldogs combined for only nine minutes of court time before intermission.
"Because of circumstances beyond my control, we had to play most of the game without our big men," Morgan diplomatically replied when asked why the pair was whistled for so many fouls by the Missouri Valley officiating crew.
"Staple and George played well in the first half in terms of moving the ball, rebounding the ball, playing defense and getting to the right spots," Morgan said.
The Cyclones were forced to go to a perimeter game and with the Bulldogs bottling up Sullivan, it was up to Blalock and Stinson to take control.
Midway through the second half, the Bulldogs started making the shots they had missed during the first half, improving their percentage from the field from a paltry 23.3% to 38.1%.
"We did start to shot a little better in the second half," Drake coach Tom Davis said in what must have been the understatement of the night.
It wasn't as if the Cyclones suddenly abandoned defense, however.
"You have to give them credit because our guys were getting out there and trying to challenge those shots," Morgan said.
As the Bulldogs closed in on the Cyclones, the Knapp center crowd of 6,844 became quite boisterous. Even though there were several thousand Iowa State fans in attendance, the Bulldog faithful sit right next to the floor and can become quite an intimidating force to the visiting team.
"We knew they always make a serious push," Morgan said of the Drake run. "You have to admire the gallantry with which they came back, but you also have to admire the fact that my kids held their guts, held their composure and did what they needed to do in the end to win the game."
"We expected a run," Jackson Vroman said. "Coach told us to expect a run. I don't know if the crowd affected us, but their game plan affected us.
"I told them in the locker room to push the crowd out, push the noise out, push everything out and concentrate on each other," Morgan said of the preparation for the inevitable every time the Cyclones visit the Drake campus.
Just when it appeared that the Cyclones were headed for another Knapp Center heartbreaker, Blalock shifted into high gear and the Cyclones reasserted their earlier dominance over the young Bulldog squad. Blalock then made three baskets down the stretch as well as four of his eight free throws.
"He (Blalock) did some nice dribble penetration and just went right by our guards," Davis said of the Cyclone point guard who also hit all eight of his free throw attempts.
It was a good night for Drake, as their young squad showed continued improvement under Davis' tutelage and although disappointed with the loss he attributed it to being beaten "by a good ball club."
"That's a nice Iowa State team," he said. "They've got good strength, good size, good quickness on the inside so you've got guys coming at you pretty hard and that can shut your shooting down a little bit. We were beaten by a good ball club. "
As for Morgan, his team accomplished something that no Iowa State team since Tim Floyd's 1995-96 Big Eight Championship squad had done - beat Drake in Des Moines. That team only squeaked by the Bulldogs by a 65-62 margin, so one can be assured that the ISU coaching staff highly values this victory.
"It's a terrific win for us because we've played an away game in a hostile environment," Morgan said. "The other team played great and we were able to hang on and make the plays we needed to win.
"Obviously their game plan was to take Jake Sullivan out of the game, but as you can see we have a few other guys who can play beside him."
Marcus Jefferson twisted his ankle and had to be helped to the locker room. He eventually returned to the court and played very well, scoring on four of six shots and pulling down eight rebounds.
Jared Homan led in rebounding with 10 followed by Jackson Vroman's nine.
Will Blalock was pleased with his point total. He averaged just 6.8 points prior to Saturday's contest, so the 23 that he put up will make opponents think twice about concentrating defensively on Sullivan.
Jake Sullivan had no problem with his scoring (12 points). "That's fine with me (box and one defense)," he said. "We've got such great teammates, great players - those guys are going to pick it up. It was a great team win. It's been a long time (since we won here), we just got to keep it going." Sullivan says you don't see that particular defense used much at this level. After Blalock and Stinson's performance, they probably won't see it again. "We've got such a good team this year, such great freshmen, it's going to be hard to do that stuff. I've just got to stand out there as a decoy and let those guys do their thing. All that matters to me is to get a win and that's my only goal this year."
Curtis Stinson on his first road trip as a collegian: "Playing on the road was tough. I know playing on the road in the big 12 will be tougher."
Iowa State out rebounded the shorter Drake team, 49-30, but lost much of that advantage by having the ball stolen 14 times as opposed to their three takeaways.
Guard Joshua Robinson led the Bulldog scoring with 18 points, followed by Klayton Korver's 11. Drake's record dropped to 3-4.
The anticipated return of guard Tim Barnes will have to wait a bit longer. Morgan says that he is in the "certification" process waiting for grades to be posted after being academically ineligible for the first semester. Barnes will probably be available for the next game, Tuesday night's encounter with Xavier.
Iowa State's Jackson Vroman, left, reaches for a rebound with Drake's Klayton Korver, right, during the second half of Iowa State's 83-77 win Saturday night. (AP Photo/Chris Donahue)
Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan questions a technical foul against Iowa State's Jared Homan during the first half against Drake. (AP Photo/Chris Donahue)
Iowa State's Jared Homan, left, defends against Drake's Chaun Brooks, right. (AP Photo/Chris Donahue)