AMES — Just last week, Iowa State coach Steve Prohm pegged Naz Mitrou-Long’s health at about 75 percent.
Monday night at Hilton Coliseum, that number more aptly described the senior’s shooting percentage.
Mitrou-Long simply sizzled in the Cyclones’ 83-63 romp past athletic and press-driven Chattanooga, sinking 6-of-9 3-point shots (ok, 67 percent) while scoring 24 points — two off his career high.
“These guys were finding me and it felt really good and it was going in the hoop,” said Mitrou-Long, who helped the No. 4 Cyclones (3-0) hand the dangerous Mocs (3-1) their first loss of the season. “So today was the day.”
Jameel McKay soared for a career-high 17 rebounds in 32 minutes. The 6-9 senior has hit double-digits in boards in each game this season and added eight points.
“Give me some of those,” joked all-American senior forward Georges Niang, who drilled three 3-pointers while scoring a season-high 19 points. “No, he’s just a monster out there. The tenacity that he’s playing with is something we’re going to need throughout the road and I’m glad it’s happening right now. He’s just playing extremely well and at a high level I don’t think you’re going to find a more active big man in the country.”
McKay’s presence in the paint and on the break fueled a fast-paced but efficient offensive effort for the Cyclones, who shot 50 percent from the field, including 48.3 percent (14-of-29) from 3-point range. Monté Morris dished out 10 assists for the fifth time in his career and added three steals while scoring 14 points.
“Those guys are fun to watch when the ball’s moving and that’s just something that they can do,” Prohm said. “They got a really good feel. They spaced the floor. We made shots tonight. We still can’t make free throws for whatever reason, for a good free throw shooting team, but we really make the extra pass and obviously Naz shot it well form three. Georges shot it well. Hallice (Cooke) and Matt (Thomas) made a couple. So it’s fun to watch that.”
Also enjoyable: Breaking the Mocs’ press early and often — and finishing it with knockout shots. Chattanooga forced 21 and 16 turnovers, respectively, in earlier wins over power-five Georgia and Illinois. Monday, the Mocs poked away just 11 while being held to 38 percent shooting.
“To be able to get into pressure you’ve got to score,” Prohm said. “And you just look at our defensive stats: 38 percent from the field, 25 percent from the three. They had been shooting at a high clip they had been averaging in the 80s. So if you can guard them then they’re not going to be able to get that and you’re going to be able to score off your defense. That was big. We were able to get some things in transition, make some open 3s, and when we’re doing that, we’re obviously a very good team.”
The Cyclones went on an 18-2 run to erase an early 7-2 deficit. They led by double digits for more than 26 minutes and distributed 21 assists on 33 total field goals.
“That’s expected when you’re playing a team that likes to press,” McKay said. “We’re just going to look for the open guy.”
Monday, Mitrou-Long made the most of his open looks. It’s been a long time coming. He went 1-for-7 from distance in last Monday’s 106-64 rout of Chicago State, but is beginning to feel closer to full health on his road to recovery from offseason double hip surgery.
“My shots really been coming together,” he said. “I’ve been able to get in the gym a little bit more and it just feels really good right now.”
SPEAKING OF HEALTH: McKay said he "can’t catch a break" when it comes to minor injuries. He also cramped up at times in Monday’s win. What gives? "Today I landed on my ankle, but I’m doing well," McKay said. "I’ll just do a good job of getting rest and icing it all — everything on my body. I’m doing well. they’re not like real injuries, just little tweaks. As for the cramps … "I don’t know what that was about," he said. "It stopped me from getting 20 rebounds, but that’s OK."