Back (court) Into the Swing of Things

Instead of being a deterrent to Iowa State pulling out its first victory in Big 12 play, Jake Sullivan and Tim Barnes played a major role in a 71-61 triumph over Nebraska Saturday afternoon in Hilton Coliseum.

Each playing an entire game, they combined for 40 points on 16-of-27 shooting while dishing out 10 assists and grabbing eight rebounds. It was just what the doctor ordered for a backcourt that struggled mightily just holding onto the ball four nights earlier at Missouri.

"That wasn't like us at all in the Missouri game," said Barnes Jake pulled me aside and said this couldn't happen again and we're better than that. He's a great leader and told me we needed to be focused and it would turn out good." Sullivan did a lot more shooting than passing during a first half in which he scored 18 of his game-high 23 points. In fact, Sullivan was about the only player doing much on the offensive end.

The Cyclones' first point from a player other than Sullivan didn't come until the 9:32 mark of the half when Jared Homan hit the second of two free throw attempts. The first field goal didn't come until over a minute later when Marcus Jefferson hit a shot off an in-bounds play.

"I wasn't going to let us lose today," said Sullivan, who found his shot early in scoring the team's first 11 points. "I'm really just trying to stay focused and doing what I need to do to help this team win. I really believe it was my fault we lost at Missouri. That's why I took it upon myself to lead this team to a victory today. That meant scoring in the first half and getting people the ball in the second half."

Sullivan moved into the supporting cast role in the final 20 minutes. But figuring ISU trailed 32-30 going into the locker room that was fine with everyone involved.

An intense halftime speech from head coach Larry Eustachy got the Cyclones over the hump against a Nebraska team which led by as many as 11 points in the opening session.

"We needed to win," Eustachy said. "I can understand why we struggled in the first half. We played so many good teams, rank-wise, that you can take a Nebraska lightly. As much as you try to tell the young players that, they don't understand it. That's why you get down 10 quick.

"They just don't know and think they can go to Missouri and play them close, so Nebraska rolls in and we can take a breather. That was just my opinion. It wasn't nearly how we've started the last few games. It's a good lesson for our guys."

So was the one learned by Barnes this past week – work done preparing for a game can have a big impact once the lights come on.

"Tim Barnes is the key to this team," Eustachy added. "I've just kind of come with the theory I'm the quarterback coach and he's the quarterback, like they do in the NFL. I meet with him every day and sometimes it's just to talk about his family. A lot of it is about basketball.

"You play how you practice and he's had three great practices. I said on the radio before this game I thought Tim was going to play real well. He loses confidence easily and gains it easily. He's a fragile guy like Jackson Vroman and Chris Alexander."

Silent throughout much of the early-going, Barnes, with 4:21 remaining in the half, hit his first jumper from just within the 3-point line. He added another jumper from outside the arc one minute later and never looked back. The jump had come back in Barnes' step.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "It felt great to hit a shot. Going that long without a shot, your hopes get down. I stayed after practice getting up extra shots. They fell today. I had three of my best days of practice just laying it all out there. Tonight that's what our whole team did in the second half and proved we're a good defensive team."

That defensive effort helped the Cyclones pull ahead for good after Barnes nailed a 3-pointer 35 seconds into the second half. Posting a Big 12 record 17 blocks, which came up just short of the national record held by Georgetown aided in the cause.

Jackson Vroman stepped into the background and let the backcourt do much of the scoring, but nearly finished with a triple-double by doing some grunt work inside. He scored 10 points while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking eight shots.

Eustachy downplayed his team's record-breaking performance, but was happy with its intensity on the defensive end.

"I'm not a big blocked shot guy," he said. "It's a little overrated. If they're blocking it, that means somebody's done something wrong and somebody's rotated over to block the shot. I was excited about our aggressiveness, but equally as disappointed in our first half start and how we played."

The Cyclone coach jostled around his starting lineup, giving Chris Alexander his first career start and bringing Jared Homan off the bench.

The move actually paid more dividends by giving ISU more of a bench presence, as Homan hit all three of his shots to score eight points and grab six rebounds. He also blocked four shots in 24 minutes of action. Alexander, meanwhile, was held without a rebound in 18 minutes.

"It's new to Chris," Eustachy said. "He had been practicing real well and just didn't get that into the game. He out-practiced Homan and that's what we go by. I thought Jared came in and gave us a real lift. Jared is a real solid player in this league and is going to continue to be one."

Eustachy's squad gained a sense of momentum after four Big 12 losses to open January. It's reward – a trip to play 13th-ranked Oklahoma State this Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

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