Monté Morris was so good, even a miss deserved an asterisk

 AMES — ISU point guard Monté Morris was robbed.

 The 6-2 sophomore did everything but notch a career-high in scoring while starring from end-to-end in the No. 14 Cyclones’ 79-59 drubbing of No. 21 West Virginia at sold-out Hilton Coliseum.

 A career-best four 3-pointers? Check.

 Three steals and five assists to one turnover? Uh-huh.

 But points? Morris fell one short of tying his personal best — and that only happened because teammate Abdel Nader officially got his hand on what looked to be an otherwise made shot.

 “It was in, it was down,” said Morris, who scored 19 points on just eight shots and outplayed preseason Big 12 player of the year Juwan Staten in a widely touted head-to-head matchup. “That’s one of my moves late shot clock — and I don’t get too many opportunities like that, so when I do I’ve just got to be ready to hit it. I thought it went in. I didn’t see anybody touch it. Did he touch it?”

 That’s about the only half-serious question ISU (18-6, 8-4) left unanswered while beating the Mountaineers (19-6, 7-5) at their own game.

 Saturday, the Cyclones forced the nation’s leaders in forcing turnovers to commit 11 in the first half alone.

 West Virginia finished with 19 giveaways, one short of tying a season high (or low, depending on where you sit).

 ISU’s close-outs were crisp and contested shots abounded. Cyclone big man Jameel McKay tied a career high with five blocks and affected many more as the Mountaineers shot 32 percent in the second half.

 He also made 6-of-7 first-half free throws while his teammates hit just 2-of-7 while building a 36-32 lead at the break. 

 “They weren’t even touching the rim,” Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg said of McKay’s new-found free-throw shooting prowess. “It was great to see. In fact, that first half, hell, he was the only guy that could make them.”

 McKay scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The 6-9 junior also swatted away several potential offensive boards for the Mountaineers, who managed to grab just 10, or seven short of their nation-leading average. 

 “We were able to outscore a team that’s really good in the paint, 32-20,” said Hoiberg, whose team completed a regular-season sweep of the Mountaineers. “And a lot of that has to do with Jameel McKay and also rebounding the ball.”

 Staten got his. He managed 16 points, seven assists and a Morris-matching three steals.

 But they didn’t come easy. He also coughed up a pair of turnovers. 

 “I thought Monté gave us an opportunity to win the game because he went toe-to-toe with Juwan Staten," Hoiberg said. "And that’s not easy to do. That kid is a heck of a basketball player that’s going to be playing basketball for along time. Monté’s not going to back down from anybody, I don’t care who it is. He’s going to go out there and battle and scratch and claw and fight and I thought he did a great job of that.”

 Nader, Hoiberg said, “was awesome,” scoring 16 points off the bench, with four coming on a pair of put backs. Georges Niang added 11 points and sixth man Bryce Dejean-Jones chipped in 10.

 The Cyclones outscored West Virginia 14-2 to start the second half and finished with a 23-8 edge in fast-break points.

 “That was one of our biggest keys on the board, coming out and trying to throw the first punch,” Morris said.

 And the last one. ISU closed out the game with a 13-2 flourish that could have been even stronger had that one shot by Morris not been wiped out by a whistle.

 “Monté, what else can you say about what he did?” Hoiberg said.

 Not much — though West Virginia coach Bob Huggins found a way, when asked.

 “That’s what good players do,” he said. “It’s the difference between good players and bad players. Bad players want to show the world what they can’t do. Good players stay within themselves and do what they can do.”

 Morris showed he could double-up his best previous performance from long-range this season.

 He said he put in extra shooting work this week with injured transfer Hallice Cooke and it paid off.

 “The big thing with me is confidence and rhythm,” Morris said. “And when I get that good rhythm, I can perform like this every night.”


 Hoiberg said starting guard Naz Long was slowed by a possible hip injury and that’s why he played just 12 minutes. Long, who didn’t score and took just two shots, said he’ll be OK, but he’s been experiencing pain for the last couple weeks. "A little weird, but we’re going to see what it is,” ISU’s most prolific 3-point shooter said after the game. He also added this: "More important, we got a big win." … The Cyclones improved to 61-4 at Hilton in the past four seasons and won their 14th straight conference home game. … Nader averaged 17.5 points off the bench in ISU’s two wins over West Virginia. … Dejean-Jones didn’t miss a shot from the field, going 4-for-4. 


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.