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Basketball

UNHOOKED: ISU closes out Texas at Hilton

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 AMES Thirty-five seconds separated ISU’s last-minute stars from fulfilling their respective roles.

 First, point guard Monté Morris eased the tension in Saturday’s 85-75 win over No 24 Texas with a signature floater to put the No. 14 Cyclones up by seven with 1:17 left.

 Next — just after recently-reinstated Jameel McKay’s key hustle play — forward Georges Niang schooled the Longhorns’ Tevin Mack on a drive that fully sealed the win.

 Two closers. All smiles. A team-wide killer instinct rebooted on the heels of almost 39 minutes of nerve-twisting, but business-as-usual Big 12 basketball.

 “Anybody can do it, but Georges is an All-American,” said Morris, who matched a career-high with 24 points — 19 of which came in the second half. “I’m not at an All-American stage yet, but I’m stepping up and making plays regardless. I feel like we’re just going to live and die with me and Georges making the plays down the stretch.”

 For those nearly 39 minutes, any ISU run would be answered by a Texas flurry.

 Go up eight on a Morris 3-point play midway through the first half? See the Longhorns strike back with 12 unanswered to lead, 24-21, on a Javan Felix 3-pointer.

 That trend — leading early, often and late while not creating enough daylight to ensure a win — seemed to be on a repeating loop. But not this time. The Cyclones (18-7, 7-5) finished off the Longhorns (16-9, 7-5) by scoring 10 of the game’s final 13 points.

"Proud of our guys," ISU coach Steve Prohm said. "Competed. We finished. We made the high plays down the stretch."

 Everyone served as closers in the final 2:06: Matt Thomas hit a pair of free throws. Morris hit the short jumper that made it a 3-possession game. Niang followed that up with a layup and Morris free throws completed the winning push.

 ISU sank 10 of its last 11 from the line and, by the way, torched the conference’s top defense for 67 percent field goal shooting and 49 points in the second half.

 “They made big plays,” Prohm said. “We made big plays down the stretch. Whether it was Monte’s floater, Monte’s 3, Georges getting fouled, (Abdel Nader) making two free throws — Jameel’s energy level is back where we need it. All those things are big. That’s what I told them today: I was proud of this team today. This was our team playing the right way, playing like we’re really capable of.”

 And that’s something, but it starts with the two closers. Niang scored 13 straight points late in the first half to help the Cyclones build a tenuous 35-34 lead. He’s now three points from tying former ISU coach and Ames-raised wunderkind Fred Hoiberg for third on the all-time scoring chart at 1,993. Not that the inevitable event is remotely on his mind — not when they Cyclones are putting together these types of “team wins.”

 “Coach was getting on us, (saying), ‘Do you have the will to win?’” Niang said. “And I just feel like the last couple games, really, it was we didn’t have the will to win. We were giving up late leads and stuff. So I used that as motivation. I was probably a little too emotional out there crying to the refs, but we’re just so passionate and we really wanted this win and I think if you want it that bad, you’re going to pull it out. We just need to play every game like that.”

 McKay’s return went as well — probably even better — that could be expected.

 After being suspended for a win at Oklahoma State and loss at Texas Tech, he bounced off the bench about six minutes into the game and immediately made an impact. McKay tied a season-high with four blocks, corralled seven rebounds, and played with panache through 22 full-throttle minutes.

 He was tired, but happy; glad to be back and fully focused.

 “Just one of those times that I wanted to show everybody that I could still play hard and I’m not as selfish as people made me out to be,” said McKay, who noted that he couldn’t watch the tense second halves of the games he sat out. “So that was the biggest thing for me. I was just happy to be out there with my teammates.”

 Closers. Role players. Saturday, they all came together. Prohm’s “process” seems to be unfolding according to script. Now all ISU needs is a long list of deftly-directed sequels. 

 “These guys are resilient,” Prohm said. “And that’s what gives us all great hope that we’re going to do great things.”

R

Rob Gray

administrator

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.

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