"I felt we made enough free throws to maintain our lead of eight to 10 points, which was important," said Morgan, whose Cyclone squad improved to 12-4 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play. "We missed some, but Jared Homan made his and Jake (Sullivan) made the majority of his. The kids stepped up and made free throws. If we were a horrific free-throw shooting team, we had a chance of possibly losing that game with the strategy that was used down the stretch."
Obviously suffering from a hangover after last weekend's embarrassing road loss to Baylor, ISU was slow out of the gates against another foe from the state of Texas. The Cyclones gave up seven offensive rebounds and were beaten badly on the boards, as the Aggies took a 36-33 lead into the locker room.
Some points in the fast break helped turn the tables late in the first half and early in the second. ISU scored 11 of the second half's first 14 points to take a 47-39 lead with 13:19 to play.
"The defense was OK, but we needed to get in transition way more than we did in the first half," said Will Blalock, who scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to lead all scorers. "We didn't pick it up until the second half. They out-rebounded us by six and had seven offensive rebounds (in the first half), so that kills our transition game. We need to get rebounds. This week we've got to keep getting better at that."
"We gave more emotion in the second half," said Sullivan. "I think we were still hanging on a little bit to the Baylor game. We've got to let that go. The past is the past. The future is the future. We've got to learn from it and move on. But we came out with more emotion in the second half and played better offensively and defensively."
ISU also got a huge left both mentally and physically with Jared Homan's return from a sprained right ankle. Homan's badly bruised leg showed the effects of the sprain, but the junior dealt with the pain well by scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.
"We're Division I athletes and all want to be out there," Sullivan said. "It's why we want to play the games…competition. He came out and played outstanding tonight. His ankle looks really bad, but he got his adrenaline going and is tough. He's as tough as you're going to find, so I wasn't surprised with what he did or how much he played."
With Homan's return, Staple returned to his role as a reserve. But the JUCO transfer still managed to play a big role for the Cyclones, grabbing nine rebounds and contributing five points in 19 minutes. The tandem of Staple and Homan also served to toughen ISU's inside game, as Jackson Vroman played just six minutes in the second half while foul trouble.
"Damion was outstanding tonight and gave us a big lift," Morgan said. "He made some great plays for us and has made some great strides over the last two or three games. I thought that group with Damion, Jared, Will, Curtis and Jake were playing well. You've got to be able to, tempo-wise, understand when you've got a group of kids playing well to let them play. Otherwise, your play could deteriorate."
The Cyclones will need to avoid a slow start Saturday afternoon when they host Big 12 rival Kansas at Hilton Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m.