Monte Morris’ big night helps Iowa State grab NCAA Tournament victory

Seniors Naz Mitrou-Long (L) and Monte Morris (R) celebrate at the end of a game against the Nevada Wolf Pack, March 16 in Milwaukee Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Cyclones won 84-73, and will play Purdue this Saturday in the second round of the tournament.

Ryan Young

MILWAUKEE — Monté Morris led the Cyclones to a Big 12 Championship last week, averaging nearly 18 points per game and earning the tournament’s most valuable player award.

He’s led the Cyclones on a hot streak — winning 11 of their last 13 games — that has catapulted them to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And on Thursday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, it was Morris yet again.

Morris’ near triple-double led No. 12 Iowa State (24-10, 12-6 Big 12) past No. 5 Nevada (28-7, 14-4 Mountain West) 84-73 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He put up 19 points, accompanied by eight rebounds and eight assists, pushing the Cyclones through a tough stretch and keeping Nevada, which made a late push, at bay.

“Monte is the best point guard in the country. It’s not a debate,” coach Steve Prohm said. “What a season he’s had and this last stretch of it. We’re playing great because he’s playing great. We’re playing great because he’s the catalyst.”

The Cyclones jumped out of the gate strong, grabbing a 15-point lead just before halftime. At the break, they were shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, were out-rebounding the Wolfpack and had 12 bench points.

Things were going smoothly.

Yet they turned fast. Nevada hit four of its first five shots to start the second half and quickly cut Iowa State’s lead to just five points. It seemed that they had taken the momentum.

Just as quickly as it had turned, though, Iowa State sparked a 7-0 run over 80 seconds to give it a double-digit lead again.

They did it, though, without Morris — who was stuck on the bench with three fouls. That, Morris said, shows what the Cyclones can handle.

“[That’s] just showing the world that we can take a punch, and take a hit,” Morris said. “They made their run, got a few monster dunks. They never sped us up. We had great composure, and stepped up and made plays when we had to.”

The Cyclones fended Nevada off in the final minutes of the game, cruising to the 11-point win. While it wasn’t as smooth at the end as it was in the first half, senior Matt Thomas said he was happy with the plays they made through the end of the game.

“Every team is going to keep fighting,” Thomas said. “[Nevada is a] really resilient group. They have a lot of talent. I felt like they just wont go away. They kept making timely shots to stay within striking distance. But we made plays and we made free throws down the stretch to close it out.”

Iowa State will move on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and will take on Purdue on Saturday at approximately 8:40 p.m.

While many teams head to the locker room in celebration following a win in March, the Cyclones weren’t so jubilant. They’ve been in this spot before.

They don’t want to lose focus.

“In the NCAA tournament, you have to take it one game at a time,” Thomas said. “Every team is very talented. You can lose on any given night if you’re not ready. That’s kind of the approach that we take. That’s the mindset that we all have right now. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time. All we’re concerned about now is Purdue on Saturday.”