Monté Morris ready to take it up a level at NCAA Tournament

Monte Morris cuts down the net following Iowa State’s 80-74 win over West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament Championship game. The Cyclones won their third Big 12 title in four years.

Luke Manderfeld

MILWAUKEE — If his Twitter name didn’t give it away already, Iowa State point guard Monté Morris has a flare for the big stage. 

Morris, who is “BigGame” on Twitter, will have another chance to live up to that name Thursday night, when No. 5 Iowa State (23-10, 12-6 Big 12) takes on No. 12 Nevada (28-6, 14-4 Mountain West) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Bradley Center. 

Not that he needs another chance.  

Morris has put up some of his best games when the spotlight shines on him. In the first round Big 12 Tournament last Thursday, Morris was just an assist shy of a triple-double. He wound up with the tournament’s most outstanding player award, averaging 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in three games. 

And in seven career NCAA Tournament games dating back to 2014, Morris is averaging 13.3 points, 4.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting at a 50.7 percent clip. His accuracy from beyond the arc has been exceptional, going 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) from 3-point range. 

But that comes as no surprise to his fellow teammates. 

“You just lock in a little more,” fellow senior Naz Mitrou-Long said prior to Iowa State’s practice Wednesday. “As great of a player as he is, when the lights are brighter, that’s when his game just elevates. That’s a credit to him, and what he’s about. That’s what you want out of a point guard.”

Another senior, Matt Thomas, agreed. He said Morris’ play is a big reason why the team has found success in the postseason. The three Big 12 Tournament titles in four years, including one in 2017, and two Sweet Sixteens speak to that.

“Great players make big plays at the biggest times,” Thomas said. “And he’s a great player, so obviously, I don’t expect anything less from him to turn it on when the lights are on him.” 

Morris said that big game trait was instilled in him in high school, when he made it to the final four of his high school state tournament in all four years. He still remembers his high school coach telling him: “We play our best basketball in March.”

“I like the big stage. I’ve always liked it,” Morris said. “I’ve always got up for it and that’s why I play my best basketball In March.”

Despite chatter that he would leave for the 2016 NBA Draft, Morris returned to Iowa State for his senior season. He has made the most of it, averaging 16.3 points and 6.1 assists per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.71 leads the nation, and he will shatter the NCAA all-time record with a 4.75 ratio over his career. 

His play this season has, again, lent itself to more talk about the NBA Draft. Morris is projected to be picked 42nd overall by the Charlotte Hornets, according to  

“On film, [Morris has] great court vision, really unselfish, makes other players around him better, creates steals defensively,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s got the whole package… He’s got a really bright future because he’s able to do so many things well.

“Again, [I’ll] probably have a little bit better feel after seeing him live, but what I see on tape, one of the best point guards in the entire country.” 

But Morris isn’t focused that far down the road. Ever since winning the Big 12 Tournament on Saturday, Morris has been preaching about the loss the Cyclones suffered to UAB in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. It was one of the first things he brought up in the post-game press conference.

He is motivated. Not just by the loss to UAB, but also by his snub from the Bob Cousy finalist list, given to the nation’s best point guard. Multiple players and coach Steve Prohm have already talked about it, all with dismay, but Morris has stayed relatively quiet. 

That snub will give him a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality going into the NCAA Tournament. 

“Yeah, I’m on a mission,” Morris said. “People just talk about these guys and these guys. I just sit up here, and just always say, with my numbers… if I was out of Kentucky or a Duke, I would get way more attention. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder just to let people know I’m for real.”

That mentality may lead to the best Morris we’ve seen so far. 

“Yeah, I’m ready to get it up one level,” Morris said. “Honestly, I’m playing for somebody. And I’m on a mission. I just tell myself, keep doing what you’re doing. People still got you underrated.”