Morris leads No. 23 Iowa St past Cowboys in Big 12 tourney
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Monte Morris had the ball in his hands with Iowa State’s victory assured, knowing he was only an assist shy of the second triple-double in the history of the Big 12 Tournament. The senior star held the ball until teammate Naz Mitrou-Long came over and took it so he’d get the turnover instead when the shot clock ran out.
The moment at the conclusion of the No. 23 Cyclone’s 92-83 victory over Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals Thursday was evidence of two things: How selfless and mature Morris has become during his career in Ames, and how respected he is by Mitrou-Long and the rest of his teammates.
“People were telling me about the triple-double,” said Morris, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, “but you can play for stats or you can play for the win.”
Well, the win pushed the Cyclones (21-10) into a semifinal matchup with either No. 1 Kansas or TCU on Friday night.
As for the stats? They had some gaudy ones, too.
Deonte Burton finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Mitrou-Long hit three of the Cyclones’ 12 3-pointers and had 14 points. Darrell Bowie and Matt Thomas added 13 points apiece.
“They were terrific,” first-year Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “They were the better team.”
Sophomore guard Jawun Evans did everything he could to keep the Cowboys (21-11) afloat, pouring in 29 points and handing out four assists. Backcourt mate Jeffrey Carroll added 21 points and Phil Forte had 12, but not even that offensive output was enough to keep pace with the Cyclones.
The matchup to kick-off the quarterfinals was entertaining from start to finish, the shot clock rarely a factor as the teams raced up and down the floor during a frenetic 40 minutes.
Iowa State was clinging to a 62-57 lead with about 10 minutes left when the intensity finally boiled over. Morris was tied up near midcourt and several players got into a shoving match, the Cowboys’ Brandon Averette and the Cyclones’ Donovan Jackson getting hit with technical fouls.
The Cyclones retained possession and Morris quickly scored, beginning a brief charge that gave the 2014 and ‘15 tournament champions a cushion that they were never in danger of losing.
“We spent the majority of the week working on the defensive end, but give them credit,” Underwood said. “Monte Morris, an assist away from a triple-double? Pretty effective day at the office.”
Indeed, the only question down the stretch was whether Morris would get one more assist.
He had the ball in his hands on a couple of possessions, and a couple fans seated courtside were aware of his stat line, yelling for him to get one more assist. But the Cowboys often were quick to foul and Morris wound up short of his second career triple-double. Texas Tech’s Kasib Powell had the only one in Big 12 Tournament play against Texas in 2003.
“I love the kid,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, adding he was glad the triple-double didn’t happen on a meaningless basket. “I don’t think he’d have wanted it that way. I wouldn’t have.”
Morris was not among the 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard. And that certainly caught Prohm’s attention. “I don’t know what tape they’re watching,” he said, “that he’s not one of the top guards in the country. I’m going to make my own award for him at the end of the season. You couldn’t have a better representative.”
Oklahoma State had won 10 of its last 13 games after losing six straight to start Big 12 play, and that should be enough to get the Cowboys into the NCAA Tournament. But the biggest strike against them is their record against Top 25 foes, which dropped to 1-8. “We put ourselves in a place to play in the tournament and hopefully get a good seed,” the Cowboys’ Leyton Hammonds said. “Going to be exciting.”
Iowa State relied on its usual barrage of 3-pointers but also a massive crowd advantage. Cyclones fans always paint the Sprint Center red during the tournament, even for an early tipoff.
Oklahoma State awaits its fate on Selection Sunday.
Iowa State prepares for the semifinals on Friday night. The Cyclones split the season series with Kansas and with TCU.
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