All of a sudden, things are going quite well in Cyclone Country. Iowa State recorded consecutive victories in conference play for the first time this season, doing so convincingly, 81-55, against the same Colorado team that thoroughly dominated it just 17 days earlier.
"A lot of players are showing a lot more confidence," said Vroman, who along with Jared Homan limited Buffalo force David Harrison to only 14 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes Tuesday. "It's really helped us out. We have really come together and bought into what coach has preached to us. I think we're better prepared in general. We're a better team than we were a couple weeks ago."
But while Vroman helped the Cyclones to a 43-36 rebounding margin and Barnes nailed 3-of-6 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, it was Jefferson's return that gave ISU an extra bounce in its step.
The junior arrived in Ames just hours before tip-off and will be headed back to the Chicago area Wednesday, where his mother will be moved to Northwestern Hospital and continue undergoing tests. Jefferson said afterwards that his mother has a tumor, but not much else is known about her condition.
With newfound perspective, Jefferson put together one of his best performances of the season against Colorado. In addition to scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds, he provided some much-needed energy on the defensive end against Michel Morandais.
"I wasn't nervous at all. I felt comfortable," Jefferson said. "After seeing the things I've seen in the last couple days and having my health, I'm very thankful. It took the situation to see how fortunate I am to have the opportunity that I have. I feel I might as well go out and play to the best of my ability and do all I can to make my team win. Something inside of me was just pushing me to do whatever I need to get a win."
Jefferson's teammates followed that lead, dominating from the game's onset and cruising to a double-digit halftime lead. ISU didn't benefit from being spotted 16 points at the start, as the Buffaloes did in Boulder, but it did use a 16-point swing midway through the first half to gain an advantage.
It was no coincidence that Barnes hit the 3-pointer to hand the Cyclones a 16-15 lead at the 13:45 mark. Jefferson capped an 18-2 run with a jumper four minutes and 52 seconds later, making it 31-17.
Unlike three days earlier when the Cyclones sparked some late fireworks in a come-from-behind victory over Kansas State, the second half only saw ISU add to its 14-point halftime edge.
"That's as hard as we've played all year long for longer periods of time," said Eustachy, who saw his team improve to 14-10 overall and 4-9 in Big 12 action. "It just goes to show you what hard play does. It's a good start. The other night was a good start. You think about being down 16 and where we sit right now. It's good for our guys, because they're really together. We were really moving our feet and concentrating at a high level. The crowd certainly helped."
"I told (Jefferson) we couldn't have done it without him. He gave us a huge lift. He got in about a half-hour late and we just waited for him. The team was really happy that he was back."
Eustachy's also happy his highly touted JUCO point guard is back. Barnes now has 55 points in his last four games dating back to Kansas, and has contributed greatly in the Cyclones' two-game winning streak heading into Saturday's road tilt against Nebraska.
"The referee said, ‘Did 12 just get eligible, Tim Barnes?' I said he's been here all year," Eustachy said. "As he goes, our team goes. It's everything. I thought he went against three pros in his first three games and that set him back and opened his eyes. He lost confidence, so we worked hard to build that up. He bottomed out and turned it around at Kansas. He feels very comfortable right now."
Barnes' backcourt mate Jake Sullivan led the team in scoring with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. In addition to hitting on 3-of-7 shots from the 3-point arc, he turned the ball over just once after committing none against K-State.
But now that ISU has removed the monkey from its back of winning consecutive conference games, it will face the burden of trying to win its first Big 12 road game in nearly two years on Saturday. Is this team prepared for a trip to Lincoln?
"I don't know," Eustachy said. "We're just taking it a day at a time. I'm more worried about getting on this plane than playing Nebraska. I'm taking my point guard with me, and it's not Barnes, it's my son Hayden. He will hold my hand.
"But we like the way this team has held together and put a couple back to back after all of the tough games we've had. I told the team before I left that we can't ease up and let down. We have to understand why we've won and stay with it. We've played our two best games back to back, execution-wise, and that's why we've won."