On Thursday, I began the process of enlisting your help in deciding on the greatest Iowa State men’s basketball game of the last 40 years (or basically since Johnny Orr arrived in Ames and the program started to become what we know it as today). Also on Thursday, I broke down the first region of our 64 game field, the Niang Region, which was comprised of games from the 2010s.
Well, today, we move forward (actually backward but you get the point) onto the Grayer Regional, which is made up of games from the 1980s. Now, I’m just going to be completely honest with everyone for the sake of transparency, and this might be news to some readers out there, but I was not born in the 1980s. Honestly, I probably was not even a thought in the 1980s.
I was born in 1994. Now, some of you out there are probably wondering, ‘Does he want us to feel old? Why is he telling us this? Has he even seen Back to the Future?’
No, I do not want you to feel old. I am telling you that because I want to make it clear up front that this breakdown probably will not be quite as thorough as the one I posted on Thursday for two simple reasons — I was not there to witness these games and the internet also was not there to witness these games which makes finding video of them nearly impossible and, in some cases, detailed breakdowns of them almost equally as difficult.
And, yes, I have seen Back to the Future. All three of them.
I’ll also add again that these brackets were really put together by CF analytics guru Kirk Haaland. So, when you’re wondering, ‘Why the heck isn’t Iowa State’s win over Cornell from 1984 on this list?’
Grab your telephone with a chord, look up Kirk’s phone number in your address book and dial, wait a few seconds until he answers, and when he does say, ‘Gag me with a spoon, Kirk. Iowa State’s win over Cornell in 1984 was a no-brainer for the CF greatest games bracket. I mean, seriously, barf me out before I have a cow. That bracket is grody without that win in Honolulu.’
Say it exactly like that because, according to Google, all of those are things people said in the 1980s. Like I said before, I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t alive, but, anyway, let’s talk about some basketball games.
One last disclaimer: I’m not even going to make a snubs list for this region because I don’t really see any games that deserve the distinction. Further proof of how freaking awesome it was to watch Iowa State basketball in the 2010s.
#1 – No. 20 Iowa State 102, No. 7 Iowa 100 (OT) – Dec. 19, 1987
This one is the No. 1 seed for a reason, and I’d call it the No. 1 overall seed of the entire tournament because almost every person who talks about it calls it the greatest basketball game they’ve ever seen.
The matchup had it all, two ranked teams (something that wouldn’t be seen again in the rivalry until 2013) and a plethora of future pros (Jeff Grayer and Victor Alexander for Iowa State, B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble, Bill Jones and Ed Horton for Iowa).
Even with those two facts, this game can be recalled rather simply with one name — Lafester Rhodes.
Rhodes, the Cyclones’ 6-foot-8 center, posted what could probably be regarded as one of the greatest single-game boxscores in the history of college basketball with 54 points, still a program record, on 20-of-31 shooting from the field, 9-of-12 from the free-throw line and 5-of-8 from 3-point range, plus 14 rebounds and five assists.
Rhodes’ game for the ages helped this rivalry game be one for the ages. You can relive the overtime period in an absolutely spectacular video below that not only includes fantastic basketball but has some other great things that I love about it.
First of all, the fact it was dubbed over from a tape is truly amazing. Technology is awesome. Second, people in the 1980s dressed way cooler than we do in 2020 and I’m not afraid to admit that. Third, Iowa State’s warm-ups might be the greatest things I’ve ever seen and I really need to have one yesterday. Fourth, Johnny Orr drew the final play of regulation on the court. Not on a whiteboard or a chalkboard or his hand or a piece of paper or any other thing you can write on but literally on the court. I love it so much.
Oh yeah, here’s the video. Just watch it.
#2 – Iowa State 72, No. 5 Michigan 69 – March 16, 1986
“I took a program that didn’t do anything six years ago. Everyone thought I was crazy.”
Those were the words of Johnny Orr shortly after what was at the time the unquestioned biggest win in the history of Iowa State basketball as it advanced the program to its first Sweet 16. But, it was even sweeter for Orr individually as he’d left the Wolverines six years early to take over a program that, in his words, “didn’t do anything” and he had turned it into a winner.
The program’s all-time leading scorer, Jeff Grayer, led the way for Iowa State in the Minneapolis Metrodome with 16 points. Ron Virgil scored 14 points and Sam Hill had 11.
“On CBS, all they talked about was Michigan coming out of the Midwest,” said Iowa State’s star point guard Jeff Hornacek, according to the AP Wire Service’s game story from 1986. “But we’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and I hope they start talking about the Big Eight now.”
#3 – Iowa State 73, No. 10 Missouri 72 (OT) – Feb. 8, 1983
Nobody could have understood they had just witnessed the birth something as they ambled out of Hilton Coliseum on Feb. 8, 1983, after Barry Stevens’ jumper from the top of the key, a key without a 3-point line, sunk No. 10 Missouri.
Obviously, they understood they had witnessed the birth of Barry Stevens’ stardom as the sophomore from Flint, Mich. had poured in 40 points on 14-of-23 from the field plus 12-of-13 from the free line to go along with that game-winning jump shot. Seeing that Stevens, who still stands as the program’s third all-time leading scorer, was a great player was easy.
But, no, none of the people who pulled on their coats that day and headed into the Iowa winter could have understood that they had just witnessed something special, something that has stood the test of 40 years.
They had just witnessed the birth of Hilton Magic.
#4 – Iowa State 81, Miami (OH) 79 (OT) – March 14, 1986
It had been nearly 42 years since Iowa State won an NCAA Tournament game when Johnny Orr led his seventh-seeded Cyclones into the Minneapolis Metrodome to take on 10-seed Miami (OH).
Ending that 42-year run without a win in the Big Dance took everything the Cyclones had, but it was officially over when Jeff Hornacek’s 26-foot jump shot with no time left on the clock sent Iowa State to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and a date with No. 2 seed Michigan. Jeff Grayer scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Ron Virgil scored 14 points of his own.
Hornacek added 15 points to the scoreboard as well, but it was those last two that were the most important.
#5 – Iowa State 77, #4 Kansas 74 – Jan. 28, 1986
Okay, these regular-season wins are where things could get a little interesting as far as finding a ton of information, but I don’t have to explain why a win over a ranked Kansas team is a big deal. The Jayhawks, led by Danny Manning, had won eight straight games when they rolled into Hilton Coliseum on this late January night.
Jeff Grayer scored 19 points to the power the Cyclones to a lead that grew as large as 10 points with less than eight minutes to play. The only reason Kansas was able to make the game close was what I have to imagine being the worst display of free-throw shooting in basketball history.
The Cyclones missed eight consecutive shots from the charity stripe, seven of them in one-and-one situations, allowing the Jayhawks to claw back into the game. But, have no fear, in a sudden turn of events, Jeff Hornacek stepped up to knock down six straight at the line to give him 15 points on the night.
I can’t find a video of this game, but I have to imagine we all would have been on the verge of having heart attacks watching Iowa State brick free throw after free throw.
#6 – Iowa State 104, No. 2 Purdue 96 – Nov. 24, 1987
Iowa State had only beaten one team ranked in the top-10 on the road when they arrived in West Lafayette, Ind. for the second round of the 1987 Big Apple NIT.
That number grew to two as Jeff Grayer scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half and the Cyclones stunned the Boilermakers, who went on to win the Big 10 and lose only three other games the rest of the season, securing Iowa State’s first-ever victory over the nation’s No. 2 team.
#7 – Iowa State 75, No. 10 Kansas 59 – March 8, 1985
Iowa State had never played in the Big Eight Tournament semifinals prior to matching up with the Jayhawks at Kemper Arena in 1985. They added another first the next day as the Cyclones, led by All-Tournament Team selections Barry Stevens and Jeff Hornacek, shocked the Jayhawks, advancing to the program’s first Big Eight final and, more or less, securing the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1944.
#8 – No. 14 Iowa State 88, No. 16 Kansas 78 – Jan. 13, 1988
This win was part of a 16-2 start to the season for the 1987-88 Cyclones that saw the team reach as high as No. 10 in the AP Poll before a late-season seven-game losing streak. Iowa State still reached the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years due in large part to, an at the time, school-record four wins over team’s in the Top-25, including this one over the Jayhawks, who went on to be known as Danny Manning and the Miracles when they won the national championship a few months later.
#9 – Iowa State 82, No. 3 Missouri 75 – Feb. 14, 1989
As legendary Des Moines Register columnist Buck Turnbull was previewing Iowa State’s upcoming matchup with No. 3 Missouri in mid-February 1989, he wondered, “Will the magic of Hilton Coliseum work one more time for Iowa State’s basketball team?” We talked earlier about the birth of the magic after Barry Stevens’ shot to sink Missouri in 1984, but it had never been given a name.
The answer to Turnbull’s question was a resounding yes as the Cyclones secured a victory over Norm Stewart’s Tigers and two days later, the Register’s headline read, “Hilton Magic Spells ‘Upset’ One More Time.”
So, with that, the magic of Hilton Coliseum had a name.
#10 – Iowa State 73, No. 5 Oklahoma 70 – Feb. 8, 1986
Jeff Grayer led the Cyclones with 23 points, including a go-ahead floater in the lane with less than a minute to play, to give Iowa State its 14th straight win in Hilton Coliseum.
#11 – Iowa State 72, No. 10 Kansas 70 – Feb. 16, 1985
This win was Iowa State’s second over a top-10 opponent since Johnny Orr’s arrival in Ames and the first since Barry Stevens’ shot beat Missouri in 1984. The victory gave Iowa State momentum as they rolled down the stretch and started to make the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in 41 years seem like a possibility.
#12 – Iowa State 86, No. 12 Oklahoma 84 – Feb. 24, 1987
Iowa State’s 1987 season was relatively void of exciting moments in comparison to the previous two seasons and the two years that followed it, but Tom Schafer’s 15-foot bank shot with 0.4 seconds left to secure an upset win over the Sooners was certainly a high-point.
#13 – Iowa State 95, No. 15 Kansas 86 – Feb. 17, 1987
Another high-point of that 1987 season was this win over the Jayhawks, which came a little more than two weeks after Kansas had blasted the Cyclones by 24 points in Allen Fieldhouse.
#14 – Iowa State 74, No. 17 Oklahoma 68 – Jan. 11, 1984
This win was one that set the stage for what was to come over the next two seasons for Iowa State basketball as Barry Stevens and Jeff Hornacek grew to be upperclassmen. The program ended the season with a spot in the NIT, but the addition of a smooth-shooting forward from Michigan named Jeff Grayer elevated the Cyclones in 1984-85 and beyond.
#15 – Iowa State 102, No. 15 Missouri 89 – Feb. 17, 1988
Lafester Rhodes scored 34 points plus grabbed 13 rebounds and Jeff Grayer scored 27 points of his own as Iowa State snapped a seven-game losing streak on their way to another NCAA Tournament bid.
Tip: There is a video on YouTube with highlights of this game but it wouldn’t let me link it for some reason.
#16 – Iowa State 76, Iowa 72 (2OT) – Jan. 14, 1984
This game snapped a five-game winning streak in the series for the Hawkeyes, gave Johnny Orr his first win over the Cyclones’ in-state rival and was the first of four Iowa State wins in five years. It is the only Cy-Hawk basketball game to ever go into double-overtime.