Dec 8, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Monte Morris (11) looks to defend as Iowa Hawkeyes guard Jordan Bohannon (3) brings the ball up court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa won 78-64. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — ISU coach Steve Prohm spent the two days following his team’s unnerving 78-64 loss to Iowa on the recruiting trail.
Friday and Saturday’s travels centered on the futureof the Cyclones’ program, but Prohm spent plenty of time texting back-and-forth with point guard Monté Morris about the present. How to get better. Individually and team-wide. As coaches and as players.
Finally, Prohm offered his floor general an invitation. His office. Iowa film. They’d watch it together, start to finish, while sharing vital in-game commentary.
“I just told him I’d be back Sunday and let’s just sit down,” said Prohm, whose Cyclones (6-3) face Drake (1-8) at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Big Four Classic in Des Moines. “Man, we just went through play after play of, ‘What are you thinking? Here’s what I’m thinking.’ I think we’ve got a really good relationship and I love him to death, but we’ve got to continue to tighten it up even more to where we’re always communicating even more, to a higher level.”
The upshot? Morris obviously remains the key to ISU’s success (or lack of it) on offense, which this season has become uncommonly erratic.
The Cyclones enter Saturday’s game at 177th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom. They’ve ranked as high as 10th and never lower than 61st in that advanced stat in the previous four seasons.
Bottom line: That simply won’t do — and Morris is uniquely qualified to lead a lightning-quick revival. So at some point, Prohm pressed pause and said the following:
“‘Hey, man, I need you attacking, attacking, attacking, attacking, attacking,’” Prohm recalled saying. “‘That’s your mindset. Not just attack to score, but attack to put pressure on that defense. That when you’ve got something, you come over at the media timeout to say, ‘Hey coach, here’s what I’m thinking — A, B, C.’”
It was an unprecedented arrangement, for coach and player alike, but it proved productive.
Prohm said he’d never watched a full game with a player before. Morris said it helped strengthen an already-strong bond with his head coach as they floated ideas and plotted course corrections in advance of Big 12 play, which begins Dec. 30 against Texas Tech.
“Watching that game, I think, really made us closer and he’s really just telling me how he wants to talk to me and I’m telling him how I need him to talk to me for me to be successful and for me to be in attack mode all the time and being a leader out there,” Morris said. “So I think that situation (Sunday) really helped that.”
The pace of play will pick up when the Cyclones start hitting shots. Prohm said scoring in transition remains paramount in igniting the offense.
“We’ve got to get some easy baskets by playing in transition, by pushing the tempo,” Prohm said. “The point guard, wings running, bigs running to the rim, sprinting into screens.”
Morris noted that shooting’s been a team-wide struggle, but it’s been particularly difficult for typically sharpshooting fifth-year senior Naz Mitrou-Long to get going.
He entered the season as a career 37.7 percent 3-point shooter. He’s at 26.7 percent (16 of 60) this season, but vows to turn it around along with his teammates.
“I put in too much work,” Mitrou-Long said. “These guys put in too much work. We believe in ourselves. Again, me and Monté talk about it every single day: If it has to be us against the world, I like our chances. I love our chances and I wouldn’t rather do it with any other group of guys.”
Neither would Prohm, despite the recent downturn. Perhaps the matchup with the Bulldogs comes at the perfect time, then. Prohm offered best wishes to former Drake coach Ray Giacoletti (who stepped down last week), then noted that he’s coached against the Bulldogs just once before.
“It’s funny, it was kind of the same situation,” Prohm said. “I was at Murray (State) in my last year (and) we were 2-4. I stunk. My players stunk. And then we beat them and won 25 games in a row.”
Point: It’s never as bad as it seems. Also, it’s rarely as good as it seems, either. Sparks can be struck on a moment’s notice. The key is to keep grinding — whether on the practice floor, the game court, or during a revealing one-on-one, full-length video review.
Details, details. Attack, attack.
“We stopped almost every possession just to see what he was seeing and he was asking me every possession what was I seeing,” said Morris, who leads ISU in scoring (14.2 points per game) and assists (6.1). “What can I do better on this possession? And how to get guys in better spots and my pace that I’m playing at — I can pick it up. I think we took a good step forward in that direction. And coming into the game on Saturday and later on in the season, it will be a major difference.”