As soon as his potential game-winning 25-footer left his finger tips Wednesday night, Iowa State's Scott Christopherson admits he thought it had no chance.
"I could tell it was long," the senior guard said. "I was just praying it would somehow crawl in."
Christopherson's prayers were answered when his shot banked off the glass and in as time expired. That completed Iowa State's rally from a six-point deficit with 3:06 to play and gave the Cyclones a 71-68 victory over visiting Oklahoma State.
When Christopherson climbed up on the scorer's table afterward and thumped his chest and exhorted the home crowd, he insists it was more in celebration of the team's newfound success than of the unlikely shot he'd just sank. Iowa State (13-5, 3-2) is off to a strong start in Big 12 play, raising hopes it can finish in the upper half of the league and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
"This is the first time since I've been at Iowa State that we've been five games into the conference season and had an above .500 record and been in the hunt," Christopherson said. "I'm just really excited for our team and the whole program. Hopefully we can build on this and go on a nice run."
What's most exciting to Christopherson is he believes this was the sort of game past Iowa State teams would have lost. The Cyclones needed three defensive stops, a game-tying three from Tyrus McGee and a steal from McGee just to tie the score at 68 and pave the way for Christopherson's heroics.
Christopherson's primary option as he dribbled up court was to look for teammate Royce White, but Oklahoma State had him well covered. Instead, Christopherson noted that 5-foot-9 Keiton Page was checking him, so he pulled up a few feet behind the arc because he didn't have to worry about having his shot blocked.
"Keiton Page backed up off me and gave me a little room to rise up and shoot it," Christopherson said. "It was a deeper shot than I wanted and I wasn't trying to bank it, but they all count the same."
The victory was critical for Iowa State because it cannot afford to drop winnable home games in Big 12 play. The Cyclones lost to Drake and Northern Iowa in nonconference play, but they're digging themselves out of that hole in Big 12 play with wins over Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, and respectable single-digit losses to Missouri and Kansas.
It took Iowa State a few weeks to jell because the Cyclones were trying to integrate four key transfers with the rest of their returning players. Now they have the look of a team that cannot be taken lightly in the Big 12.
"The first four of the conference season, we played extremely hard. I don't think tonight we played with that same energy for a full 40 minutes, but I think our effort, our energy, our focus on the defensive end of the court has been a lot better these last four or five games. We've just been more consistent.
"I don't know if we were capable of doing what we did tonight a month ago. I don't know if we would have come together like we did tonight. When that happens, special things can happen for you."
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