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KANSAS CITY — Jameel McKay delivered almost too-firm words of support to his point guard.
Monté Morris — poised to take and make the biggest shot of his rich basketball life — nodded, then hoped McKay would shut up.
Time remaining: 5.8 seconds.
Iowa State’s breathless comeback against desperate but teetering Texas in Thursday’s Big 12 quarterfinal at the Sprint Center: Nearly complete.
“The play was actually for me to curl it and try to get it running up the sideline,” said Morris, who drilled a fadeaway 20-footer to beat the buzzer in the No. 13 Cyclones’ pulse-pounding 69-67 win. “But I wanted to catch it backcourt so I could get a full head of steam. And Jameel, out of the timeout, he told me, ‘Don’t pass. Win us this game.’ And Texas is right there and I’m like, ‘Don’t give it away. Just relax. I got you.’”
Then Morris — who capped a 12-0 game-closing run with the game-winner over Demarcus Holland — laughed at the memory.
One of those games. One for the ages, as Morris and Georges Niang combined for 46 points. One definitely not for anxious types — what, with ISU (23-8) trailing by as many as 16 points in a first half that included a season-worst 9:46 scoring drought.
“Like I said to them after the game, ‘Guys, it’s not over until it’s over,’” said Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team advanced to Friday’s scheduled 8 p.m. semifinal against Oklahoma. “‘Fight through adversity and anything can happen.’ Shoot, sometimes your words as a coach actually come true. Not very often, but tonight it did.”
ISU scored 44 points in the second half, pushing their average after halftime in the last three comeback wins to 55.3
What is it about the final 20 minutes?
Niang — who assisted on Dustin Hogue’s 3-pointer that made the score 67-64 as well as a Morris 3 that tied it 30 seconds later — had called these second-half scoring outbursts an “emergency plan” he’d hoped the team could avoid.
“Are we running out yet?” joked Niang, who scored 22 points while dishing out six assists. “Do you have any extra ones I can use? No, I think we’re doing a great job of coming together at the end of games, but we need to do a better job of starting games off right.”
Thursday started OK — the Cyclones trailed just 15-14 before they slipped into a funk on the offensive end.
But during the nearly 10-minute scoring drought, they also held the NCAA Tournament bubble-bound Longhorns scoreless for a span of 4:25.
Thus ISU trailed just 36-25 at halftime thanks to quick late buckets from Niang and Morris.
“That’s big,” said McKay, who grabbed a team-best nine rebounds. “When shots aren’t falling, if you can get stops, it keeps you in close range. With our offense, if we’re down 11 at halftime, that’s nothing for us.”
It wasn’t nothing to Hoiberg, who expressed his displeasure in the locker room at halftime.
“He was pissed,” said Morris, whose sterling line included 24 points, five steals, three assists, zero turnovers and torrid 4-for-5 3-point shooting.
More, um, perturbed than he was when the Cyclones needed to come back from 21 points down in the regular-season finale against the Sooners?
“He was just as mad this game,” Morris said. “We were beating ourselves, but at the end of the day we came out and played in the second half.”
McKay said those final fleeting seconds unfolded as if they were projected on the silver screen.
“Me and Naz (Long) were just saying it was like a movie, honestly,” McKay said. “Everything was going our way. The crowd was unbelievable. It felt like we were at Hilton. It was like a little magic in there.”
Make that a lot. As Morris’s fateful shot went down, he spotted his mom, Latonia, in her seat.
“I think she started crying,” the Flint, Mich., native said, grinning.
A wild celebration ensued, replete with shouts, hugs, cheers and laughter. Hilton South roared and eventually, even some of the Cyclones themselves choked up.
“Iowa State,” Long said after processing it all, “today we showed why we’re Cyclones.”