It was a night that would inspire the average Iowan to remember where they were and what they were doing. The night was Dec. 19, 1987. The place was sold-out Hilton Coliseum. The star was Lafester Rhodes. If you are a Cyclone fan, it was a game for the ages. If you bleed black and gold, it was a night that will live in infamy. Either way, the game was arguably the greatest and most exciting ever played in the state of Iowa.
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The matchup had it all, with it almost taking on mythic-like proportions. No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 20 Iowa State. Rosters laden with future NBA players (four for Iowa: Roy Marble, Bill Jones, B.J. Armstrong, Ed Horton and two for Iowa State: Jeff Grayer and Victor Alexander.) Both teams reaching the century mark. And Rhodes posting the greatest offensive output by any Division I athlete in the state of Iowa, pouring in 54 points to help ISU beat the Hawkeyes 102-100 in overtime.
For the gangly 6-8 Rhodes, he could not have picked a better coming out party than against the intrastate rival Hawkeyes. The Memphis, Tenn., native spent his first three seasons as a Cyclone on the bench. But when it came down to his final season, the Cyclones were searching for a center after the graduation of Sam Hill and the loss of Daryl Spinks. Iowa State head coach Johnny Orr let Rhodes have his chance.
Heading into the game, Rhodes had already showed signs of brilliance in previous contests. The center, with his agility, quickness and leaping ability, soon found his niche as the Cyclones pivotman. Against the Hawks, Rhodes was Mr. Everything, making shots from all corners of the arena for an incredible 20-for-31 shooting performance. Rhodes also canned 9-of-12 free throw attempts, made 5-of-8 3-pointers, dished out fi ve assists and grabbed a game-high 14 boards. Rhodes played all 45 minutes committing only one turnover to produce one of the greatest lines in college basketball history.
“They left me open, so I just kept taking the shots,” Rhodes said. “Coach Orr told me that if they were going to leave me open like that, I should keep on taking the shots.”
And taking shots is what Rhodes did. Two of his shots came at the most opportune time. One occurred at the end of the first half. As time was running down, Rhodes launched a 29-footer from the top of the key to put ISU up at intermission 50-49. The other was a soft jumper in the overtime period that pushed the Cyclones ahead for good at the :24 mark.
“I can’t sum up my feelings about what Lafester did,” Orr said. “I have never had a player do anything like that.”
Rhodes’ 54 points is still an Iowa State and Hilton Coliseum record and is the fourth-best in Big Eight/12 Conference history. Rhodes, who earned second-team all-Big Eight honors, ended the year with a 22.5 ppg scoring average, helping ISU to a 20-12 record and an NCAA Tournament berth.