Ames, Iowa -- It's been a long time since anybody was this excited about beating Kansas State in men's basketball.
But the crowd of 12,824 rabid Cyclone fans who stood and applauded as Jackson Vroman victoriously launched the ball high up into the air while the final seconds ticked away in Iowa State's 64-61 victory over Kansas State on Saturday afternoon were acknowledging something bigger than the final score.
Effort for one. Determination and -- for a change -- toughness for another.
"This was a turning point for our season," said ISU Coach Larry Eustachy.
It looked bleak at halftime. The Cyclones were trailing K-State, which had lost its last 13 conference road games, by 12 points thanks to 7-for-26 shooting and a 23-13 rebound disadvantage.
"I told the guys we've been here before and we needed to fight back," Eustachy said.
And fight back the scrappy Cyclones did in the second half. The catalyst was point guard Tim Barnes.
Barnes scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half and joined Adam Haluska and Jake Sullivan as ISU's 40-minute men. Barnes also had a game-high five three-pointers, including three during a key 15-4 run by the Cyclones to open the second half that turned the momentum in ISU's direction.
"My confidence kind of lingered for a while," said Barnes, a first-year Cyclone who was a second team JUCO All-American last season. "Coming in from junior college to the Big 12 was a big change. We needed a big win. This proves to us that we can play with a Big 12 team."
Perhaps the motivation for Barnes' best game in a Cyclone uniform can be summed up in one word: mom.
Barnes' mother got her first chance to see him play at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday versus the Wildcats. Perhaps ISU can find a way to make sure Mama Barnes is in attendance more often?
"My whole family was here and it was gratifying to get a win in front of them," Barnes said.
Barnes wasn't alone in sparking the undermanned Cyclones, who were forced to play all five starters at least 37 of 40 minutes due to a lack of depth. Sullivan was sensational again, scoring a game-high 25 points while finishing with four assists and no turnovers. Vroman chipped in a game high 16 rebounds. And Haluska, who has struggled mightily the past month and missed his first eight shot attempts on Saturday, drove for a key layup that gave the Cyclones a late 60-59 lead and made the two free throws that iced the game.
"This is a big step in our program," said Haluska, who played the entire game despite battling an earache and a sinus infection all week. "We really grew up and played a full 40 minutes."
After the game, Eustachy was talking toughness again. But this time his voice had a far different tone.
"This is the most toughness we've shown," Eustachy said. "I don't know if I've had a nicer win since I've been here considering the circumstances."
It remains to be seen if the Cyclones can build on this victory in their final four Big 12 games of the season. There's still the matter of a 15-game road losing streak in the league to overcome, and another win to notch in order to qualify for the postseason NIT. Nonetheless, the momentary joy is understandable to Vroman.
"We haven't won in a while," he said.
The Cyclones (3-9 in the Big 12, 13-10 overall) next host Colorado on Tuesday.
Notes: The Cyclones held K-State to 40 percent shooting and out-rebounded the Wildcats 19-16 in the second half.....the Wildcats missed at least five layups in the first half that coud've made the first half score much more difficult for ISU to overcome.....after sitting out the Texas A&M game for health reasons, voice of the Cyclones Pete Taylor returned to the broadcast booth on Saturday.....Eustachy was very complimentary of the Hilton Coliseum crowd afterwards, which was a huge pick-me-up to the Cyclones once the momentum began to turn in their favor.....Dan McCarney and Terry Allen hosted several football underclassmen and their parents at the game. Everyone seemed to be really enjoying the game.....Marcus Jefferson's return is still up in the air. He returned home on Thursday night to attend to his gravely ill mother.....K-State played 10 players to ISU's six.....Clint Varley was the only ISU reserve to see action. He played nine minutes and contributed two rebounds.....Perhaps the biggest call by the officials came from the replay booth, which ruled Jake Sullivan's jumper was indeed a three-pointer at the 3-minute mark.....When I asked Eustachy afterwards about skipping out on the Greater Des Moines Cyclone Club Luncheon on Friday, he expressed his regrets about the way that was handled and vowed to buy every member's meal at the March 6 luncheon.