Opportunity Knocks For ISU's Sullivan

The word is finally getting out, as Iowa State's opponents are starting to play more attention to freshmen guards Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock. Saturday night that was a good thing for veteran Jake Sullivan, as the sharpshooter took advantage of Nebraska's defense and seven 3-pointers lead the Cyclones with 23 points in an 89-74 victory.

Sullivan's effort was also good enough for ISU to withstand a double-digit Husker run in the second half and improve to 2-0 in the Big 12 and 9-2 overall.

"Tonight the shots just went in," said Sullivan. "Curtis probably got me the points tonight and the shots. They had to take their best defender and really put him on Curtis to start the game. He got me the good shots by getting most of the focus. That opened some stuff up. It's going to be tough to guard us, because we have a lot of weapons on this team."

Although he attracted much of Nebraska's attention, Stinson still managed to post 15 points and six assists in 35 minutes of action. The freshman had been struggling from the free throw line in recent weeks, but hit 5-of-6 from the charity stripe Saturday night.

But despite shooting nearly 52 percent from the field and dishing out 22 assists to just eight turnovers, ISU still fell victim to another early second-half flurry. After Jackson Vroman opened the second half with a bucket to give the Cyclones a 48-35 lead, the Huskers answered by scoring 14 of the next 15 points and evening the score with 14:53 to play.

But Nebraska's momentum was short lived. Vroman hit a layup nine seconds later, then Stinson hit a shot in transition to make it 53-49 with 14:23 remaining.

"Basketball is a game of runs," said Cyclone head coach Wayne Morgan. "If you look at the first half, they had a run. If they're a good team, they're going to have a run at some point in the second half. But we need to get good enough to withstand those runs and hopefully overcome them and get a larger lead. Tonight we were fortunate enough to do that."

ISU would put the game away down the stretch, holding its opponent to just one field goal over a span of nearly five minutes. Thanks to those missed shots the Cyclones were able to pull away to a 74-61 lead with just under six minutes to play.

"We felt that we needed to play better defense," Morgan added. "Our defense is what keys our offense, because our best offense is transition. It's hard to run if they make it, so you've got to get them to miss. Our defense has to get good enough to get us a rebound, and get it to somebody to push it. But going down the stretch tonight our half court game was a lot better. We got stuff inside to Jackson and ran some things to get Jake some open looks."

The Cyclones may have gotten double-figure scoring out of four of its five starters, but role players Marcus Jefferson and Damion Staple came up big in each of the two halves. Jefferson's defense helped spur ISU's game breaking run in the second half. Staple was a perfect 3-of-3 shooting and hit all four of his free-throw attempts to finish with 10 points in 14 minutes. He added a pair of crucial steals down the stretch.

"In the second half, Marcus Jefferson was key," Morgan said. "He shut down the left side of the court. Their shooters couldn't get a shot up. He got out there every time and made sure their shooters couldn't get a shot, and that's when we got the lead. Though he didn't score a lot of points, his contribution at that point was invaluable. I also thought we got a tremendous lift from Damion Staple."

Staple has been slow to recover from a knee injury sustained in the preseason, but has made some marked progress since the start of 2004.

"Sitting on the bench, we wait and watch the game for our opportunities," said Staple. "Some of our big guys were making mistakes, so I tried to go in there and correct it. It felt good to do that. I needed to raise the intensity and play defense."

After shooting just over 48 percent from the floor in the opening half, Nebraska slumped to under 44 percent in the closing 20 minutes.

ISU, meanwhile, got double-figure scoringg from five different players. Vroman fought through foul trouble early in the second half to score 15 points and grab 11 rebounds. Jared Homan added 11 points and seven rebounds. Will Blalock battled the flu bug to lead the Cyclone attack, dishing out four assists to go along with his nine points.


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