The triumph also snapped a run of futility at the conference tournament, as the Cyclones had been first-round outs the past two seasons in Kansas City.
"It's been two years for me of disappointing losses and going home," said guard Jake Sullivan, who teamed with point guard Jake Sullivan for a combined 32 points, 12 assists and, more importantly, two turnovers. "We're eating good food here and having a good time. We want to keep it up as soon as possible.
"We had a lot of confidence going in. I saw a lot of people making a big deal out of being 0-and-8. I know it's not Kansas and Missouri, but we did win two games on the road this year at UNI and Iowa. We have blown a lot of games on the road, so we know we can play well. It's just a matter of playing well as a team and with a lot of energy."
ISU fans that made the trek to Dallas had to be pleased with the performance, too, especially after going home after day one in 2001 and 2002. Mizzou ended its season in a blowout last March one year after Baylor upset the top-seeded Cyclones at Kemper Arena.
"We're most happy for our fans, because the last two years we have disappointed them," said ISU head coach Larry Eustachy. "We have such a great following. It's neat for them.
"This is all about building for the future. We're in the infant stages of rebuilding this program. It was a good step in what we're trying to do."
The Cyclones' effort certainly never lacked for energy, as hard work won them many battles for loose balls and rebounds.
Jackson Vroman added yet another double-double in a long line of them, scoring 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Meanwhile, his counterpart Jared Homan tallied 15 points and nine rebounds as ISU owned a 42-31 edge on the boards. This from the same team that found itself on the wrong side of a 37-30 margin at Texas A&M.
"We really did a good job of checking our man and going to get the ball," said Vroman, who tallied his 11th double-double of the season. "Our guards rebounded down really well. A lot of the extra boards we got came from hustling more to the loose balls. They got about nine out of 10 loose balls down the stretch at Texas A&M, so doing that today helped a lot."
While ISU's men in the paint cleaned up on the boards, Barnes and Sullivan lit it up from outside. Barnes hit on eight of his 12 shots from the field, including 5-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc to lead all scorers with 21 points. Sullivan, meanwhile, battled an Aggie defense set on face guarding him and still wound up with 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.
Hot shooting in the first half had given way to frigid production down the stretch in the Cyclones' final two road losses of the regular season. But that wasn't the case on Thursday, if anything it was a reverse effect, as they shot 63 percent in the second half after making only 15-of-35 to open play.
"It really is amazing when you make baskets how the game goes right," said ISU head coach Larry Eustachy. "You've got to give those guys credit. They were locked in at the hotel last night and when they were practicing in the gym. They were focused. The problem with this team is when they lose that. We're totally on edge with how we have to play."
The Cyclones opened by scoring 17 of the game's first 20 points over a six-minute span, as Sullivan knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and Barnes added another. That lead would increase to 31-11 after a jumper by Marcus Jefferson at the 9:44 mark. Jefferson would end up with 19 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
Victory looked to be only a formality. But those in attendance knew better. A&M went on an 11-0 run over the next four minutes, as ISU committed four turnovers and missed six consecutive shots.
However, the Cyclones dug back in and opened back up a 40-24 lead on a pair of free throws from Jefferson with 1:55 remaining in the half.
"We knew we had to go out and play defense," Jefferson said. "We had enough points and had to stay focused. We really focused last night and knew this game was big for continuing to play the rest of this season. I don't think anybody's ready to throw the towel in yet."
Continuing on in Dallas will be a tough chore for ISU, however, which is now paired up with top-seed and Big 12 regular season champion Kansas tomorrow at Noon. The Jayhawks blew out the Cyclones by double digits in both meetings this season.
KU jumped to a 22-2 lead, then cruised to an 83-54 victory at Hilton Coliseum to open league play. A Eustachy ejection in the second half signaled the end of ISU's good effort in Lawrence last month. The Cyclones trailed by only six points at the half, but were outscored by a 42-29 margin in the final 20 minutes.
"What we have to do is quickly put this game behind us," Eustachy said. "It was a great win and we'll get probably get some high-fives from fans back at the hotel, but we've got to play probably the best team in the country tomorrow. We've got to contain them. They're a runaway freight train and it can get out of control. They're unbelievably coached and talent. We're anxious for the challenge."
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