"After you get the first couple steals it makes the other team nervous bringing the ball up the court," said Jackson Vroman, who led the Cyclones with 19 points and seven rebounds. "Then you can just go on a streak from there. We caused them a lot of pressure and made them throw that long pass. We left the longest guy open and they couldn't complete that pass with all the ball pressure."
Moving out of its base defense to a trapping approach backfired earlier in the season at Boulder when Colorado opened fire early and cruised to victory. But this time the Cyclones had little choice with the tempo the Buffs set and the fact they were getting out rebounded badly.
"We tried it at their place and they killed us," said Jake Sullivan, who along with Vroman and three others, played his final regular season game at Hilton. "Maybe it was the momentum. It was a break tonight, caught them off guard and we executed it well. We were down (by 13), had no momentum going our way so we had to try something."
The Cyclones got another spirited effort from Curtis Stinson, who tied a team-high with 19 points, while dishing out five assists. Jackson Vroman added 19 points and seven rebounds for ISU, which improved to 16-10 overall and 7-8 in Big 12 play.
"Vroman's been an incredible player this year," said ISU coach Wayne Morgan. "I'd really be shocked if he's not first-team All-Big 12. (David) Harrison is the best, but I can't think of another big guy in the conference that has done as much as he has, or has meant as much to his team. He's the only guy in the conference averaging a double-double."
But the biggest contribution could have come from Marcus Jefferson, who poured in 15 points in 28 minutes returning to a starting role he once enjoyed. He also played great defense against CU, particularly sharpshooter Blair Wilson who never quite got going and finished with 11 points.
Jefferson had left the team earlier in the Big 12 season for personal reasons, and just recently returned to action. He played with a heavy heart Wednesday night, as his mother passed away on May 15th of 2003.
"Marcus was terrific tonight," Morgan said. "What Marcus does is shut down one side of the court defensively. His defense is good, he's active and he knows what he's doing. He helps the other guys and is verbal. It's really helped the fact that he's back playing. His mom is up there looking down and I know tonight she was real proud of him."
Jefferson's teammates were hopeful that they can continue getting that effort out of Jefferson, as they prepare for the Big 12 finale Saturday at Texas Tech, and the impending conference tournament next week in Dallas.
"It's a great asset to have a guy like that under the radar," Vroman said. "A lot of guys don't have him as a focal point on their scouting reports. When he shows up and starts, comes out and plays like that, it's kind of like an added bonus. It's very rewarding for him to overcome his personal issues he had and contribute to this team on Senior Night."
ISU's comeback from a 13-point deficit marked another late surge in a rollercoaster Big 12 season. The only difference is it has rallied and won at Hilton Coliseum, while coming up just short in other contests at Nebraska and Kansas. Better defense and forced turnovers helped the Cyclones catch up with the Buffs Wednesday.
"Our team has been great, in terms of having a big heart and knowing that they can come back," Morgan said. "That was probably one of the offensive first halves we've played all year. The problem was defensively and giving up offensive rebounds. That's an exact replay of what happened at Colorado. We had one of our best first halves and they were winning. We had to start playing defense, because we weren't going to outscore this group. Again, the fact that we got them to turn it over so many times was a difference."
ISU's offense got off to a solid start thanks in large part to a starting lineup of five seniors. Vroman, Jefferson, Sullivan, Justin Fries and Andrew Skoglund took the floor to start Wednesday's game, and actually sparked the Cyclones to an 8-2 lead before Morgan began substitutions.
"They are such a great group of young men and we wanted to do that to honor them," Morgan said. "They've put in a whole career here of a lot of sweat, bruises and sometimes blood. They got us off to a great start, too."
The Cyclones are still looking for a way to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, and a win Saturday at Texas Tech would be a first step in that direction. They'll also be looking to end a 24-game road losing streak in conference play, and 8-8 finish to league play.