The Cyclones trailed by seven points with under 14 minutes remaining Wednesday, but two buckets from Sullivan in 47 seconds put ISU in position for another rally. Sullivan, who scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, then handed off to Neal. The sophomore walk-on from Winterset, who provided the fireworks in last month's victory over Iowa, hit a pair of threes in an 84-second span put the Cyclones' win on ice.
"John Neal's two threes were big, and then offensively at one point Jake just took the game over," said Morgan, who saw his team improve to 15-9 overall and further approach its goal of making the NCAA Tournament. "Jake made four or five shots in a row at one point, and was tremendous for us. With five or six minutes left there was a gut check for us and we answered the call. I'm really pleased. This is a big win for us."
It was especially huge figuring the Cyclones lost by 31 points to the same K-State team two weeks earlier. Avenging that loss looked to be quite a task after another slow start in Hilton and bad offensive night for Stinson.
The ISU freshman entered the game as his team's leading scorer, but would make just 2-of-7 shots from the field. However, he found other ways to contribute. Stinson made big plays down the stretch by getting his team in position to strike. Despite scoring just seven points, Stinson still dished out 10 assists and grabbed six rebounds.
"You know every time you come on the court maybe somebody is going to try to stop you," said Stinson. "Kansas State closed into me on the defensive side, so I wasn't going to try and score every time. I needed to find the people and found other ways to help my team win."
Morgan took a moment to applaud the work of his first-year point guard.
"He shows up in every other category, and Curtis will find other ways to beat you," the ISU coach said. "He made a lot of passes that led to passes, defensive plays, knocking the ball loose for rebounds – he does a lot of things. Curtis is a complete player and contributes in every phase of the game. In a night when maybe he doesn't put up a lot of points, he does a lot of other things to help us."
But the Cyclones' sixth league win of the season still would not have come without the work of Sullivan, who equaled a season-high with 24 points. The senior did damage from all over the court, too, hitting on 4-of-7 3-point attempts and showing nice touch from inside 15 feet.
For Sullivan, it was doing whatever was necessary to get his team on the NCAA Tournament path. ISU now has three games remaining on the regular-season schedule and will travel to Nebraska Saturday at 3 p.m.
"I need to turn it up a notch," he said. "I've got to come and play. I was really blessed tonight. I've got to be tough and strong these last four games and help us win them. We're going to win these last four games. That's our goal and only focus as a team and family. We need to do whatever it takes. We want to get to the NCAA Tournament and I want to get to the Tournament and go out the right way as a senior."
The Wildcats again proved to be a tough matchup for the Cyclones, who spent much of the first 30 minutes figuring them out. The deliberate pace played more to K-State's advantage, and could have played a part in ISU committing 13 first-half turnovers.
"The tempo is not to our liking," Morgan said. "We would like to have a quicker tempo. It also seemed like their whole game plan was to stop Curtis Stinson, so therefore they had the whole lane clogged up with everybody in the lane. Ultimately, that's what led to Jake getting the opportunity to shoot the shots he had."
Wednesday also marked the return of Marcus Jefferson to the team. The senior had taken time off to deal with personal issues. He scored two points and grabbed a pair of steals in seven minutes of action.