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AMES — MontéMorris wants his favorite lob target back, for both personal and practical reasons.
One, Iowa State’s star point guard is friends with beleaguered big man JameelMcKay, who sat out Saturday’s 92-83 win over TCU for undisclosed reasons.
Two, McKay’s energy and athleticism will be sorely needed if the No. 13 Cyclones (19-8, 8-6) are to upend No. 10 West Virginia (20-7, 9-5) in Monday’s 8 p.m. road test at Morgantown.
“We miss him a lot,” said Morris, who tallied 11 assists and five rebounds Saturday. “The numbers speak for themselves. (TCU) got a lot of offensive rebounds.”
Twenty to be exact. That ranks as ISU’s worst effort on the defensive glass this season — and to the Big 12’s ninth-best team in terms of offensive rebounding percentage.
So McKay, far and away the Cyclones’ best defensive rebounder, will likely be welcomed back with open arms despite doing, uh, something that caused his coach, SteveProhm, to sit him all 40 minutes of the win over the Horned Frogs.
That something will go unmentioned in official circles. Heck, it’s time to move on anyway, right?
“He’s like our brother,” said Morris, who owns a 39-to-2 career assist-to-turnover ratio against the Mountaineers. “It’s life. Whatever he’s going through, we’re all going through.”
Monday the Cyclones hope they’ll collectively wind through a path to an upset win — and ISU’s eighth top-50 RPI victory of the season.
Rebounds loom large once again. West Virginia amassed 15 offensive boards en route to an 81-76 win 19 days ago in Ames. For the Cyclones to achieve a reverse of fortune, McKay must play and be active. Another 14-rebound effort from DeonteBurton would be of great benefit, as well.
“Rebound, don’t turn it over, take care of the ball,” said surging ISU senior AbdelNader, who’s averaging 25 points over the past two games. “Anytime you play West Virginia, at home or away, it’s the same two things. I think we did a really bad job on the defensive boards the first time and that’s why we ended up losing. So if we do those things we’ll be all right.”
Being at least “all right” Monday could boost the Cyclones’ back into contention for a top-three Big 12 regular-season finish. They’re in a two-way tie for fourth right now, trailing Oklahoma, Baylor and the Mountaineers by one game. The Sooners won in Morgantown Saturday, which incensed the home team. ISU’s still fuming after suffering its second conference home loss to West Virginia, as well. So a sense of redemption and retribution merges and mixes from all angles.
“You’re going to play with revenge for sure,” Morris said. “I know it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a hostile environment with them just losing to Oklahoma, but hey, at this point we’re playing for respect. We’re going to try to go down to Morgantown and get a win.”
Two players stand as the biggest obstacles to attaining that goal: Devin Williams and Joycean Paige.
Williams stockpiled a season-high 18 rebounds in West Virginia’s upset in Ames. Paige scored 23 points the same night, including a key late 3-pointer, to silence the sellout crowd’s Hilton Magic.
“It’s a big road game for us and the biggest thing I want to see (us) take into that game is we’ve had four really tough road losses in conference play,” Prohm said. “Three overtimes. One where we had a chance to beat Oklahoma in regulation and we didn’t finish. We just want to put ourself in the position to finish.”
McKay can finish with the best of them — as long as he’s finally put his issues behind him for this ESPn Big Monday clash.
“Obviously we need Jameel to be great,” Prohm said. “Everybody in this room knows it. Our team knows it and he’ll be ready to go and our team will be ready to go and it’s going to take a tremendous effort to win at West Virginia and we know that.”
KENPOMSAYS: It’s not looking good. Predicted score: West Virginia 84, ISU 78. KenPom gives the Cyclones a 30 percent chance to win.
RIGHTTEAM,RIGHTTIME: Nader’s not only on a two-game roll. He’s also been historically clutch against the Mountaineers. Last season in Morgantown, he hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to complete an 18-point effort that helped cement a 74-72 triumph. Nader’s averaging 18 points in three career games against WVU.