"We're a team that's going to fight back and never give up," said true freshman Tasheed Carr, who came up huge off the bench with 17 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. "That's a testament to the coaching staff. We're going to continue to play hard every minute, every second. We knew we could eventually come back. We feed off getting steals, pressuring on defense, and getting on the break and scoring. A lot of guys get up and down the floor well."
That approach led to ISU's forcing 18 Tech turnovers and earning a decisive 22-4 edge in fast-break points. The league's worst rebounding team for much of the season, the Cyclones turned the tables on one of the best, 35-28.
Due for a big game after a pair of off nights, Jared Homan keyed his team with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He and fellow post mate Damion Staple also did the job on defense, holding the tandem of Martin Zeno and Darryl Dora to just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting.
That was one of the key factors in ISU's 52-34 scoring edge in the paint.
The Cyclones improved to 13-8 overall and 5-5 in Big 12 play heading into Tuesday's home clash with Kansas State.
"There are teams that are playing great that weren't playing well two weeks ago," said Morgan. "Basketball is a game that has ebbs, flows, and tides. When you're a great team like Illinois, you win them all. Some of us have to go through our growing pains."
Of course a sellout crowd of 14,092 and the honoring of the 1984-85 NCAA-qualifying team didn't hurt matters on Saturday, as ISU beat its second nationally-ranked team in seven days.
But all of the excitement surrounding the special day in Hilton was somewhat of a detriment early in the game. The Red Raiders surged to a 21-6 lead thanks to some hot shooting from Ronald Ross and Jarrius Jackson. Meanwhile, the jitters had yet to leave a Cyclone team that missed nine of their first 12 shots from the field.
But ISU's defense would tighten up, forcing some missed shots, and providing some more opportunities in transition.
"We couldn't do much worse," said Homan. "They were hitting every single shot and we were missing every shot. It could only go uphill from there. We knew we could battle back. We did it a lot last year and a couple times this year. We had all of those fans out there and the 84-85 team back and wanted to put a show on for those guys. We were never going to give up."
After battling to a tie at halftime, ISU took the initiative early in the second half. After a steal and dunk by Ronald Ross gave the Red Raiders a 36-34 lead at the 17:53 mark, the Cyclones went on an 11-2 run to take control. Stinson's 3-point play with 10:58 remaining made it 56-44.
However, Morgan's squad would still have to withstand a late Texas Tech charge before shutting the door. A 10-0 run cut into ISU's edge, but that would end up being the last gasp.
"I felt we played well today, but I thought we also made mistakes and need to get better," Morgan said. "We made some mistakes in the half-court offense and committed 17 turnovers. But our kids played really hard and together."
The Cyclones struggled to find any balance early in the conference season, but the emergence of freshmen Carr and Rahshon Clark has coincided with the five-game winning streak.
They found that balance again on Saturday with five players scoring in double figures. In addition to getting double digits from Homan and Carr, ISU got 15 points from Will Blalock, 13 from Curtis Stinson, and 10 from Staple.
"We heard a lot of talk and people took it to heart," said Stinson. "Our backs were against the wall and we needed to play team ball. Everybody wanted to bounce back and we knew we were a better team than that. We were hanging in games, but losing by five or six points. Now we're bouncing back and playing as hard as we can. Everybody is chipping in and it's rolling right now."
ISU puts its winning streak on the line Tuesday night at 7 p.m. against Kansas State.