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Basketball

ON TO THE OCTAGON: Notes on Monté Morris, Matt Thomas and more

Jan 24, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Deonte Burton (30) sets a screen on Kansas State Wildcats forward Wesley Iwundu (25) for Iowa State Cyclones guard Monte Morris (11) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Wildcats 70 to 65. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports 

AMES — You know how Google tries to helpfully fill out its search bar for you?

Here’s what happens when you start with the words and letters “Monte Morris as …”:

Suffice it to say, then, that the Iowa State point guard’s reputation as a record-setting giver is cemented in searches, both past and present — and simply keeps spiking upward as his senior season races toward the ultimate stretch run.

“Shoot,” fellow senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long said when asked about Morris’s staggering 8.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in Big 12 play. “When was the last time he turned over the ball? Four games ago, against West Virginia, the team that leads the country in forced turnovers. He’s playing as well or better than any point guard in the country. It’s just as simple as that.”

Next stop: Kansas State and the “Octagon of Doom.”

Morris and the fourth-place Cyclones (15-9, 7-5) take on the desperate Wildcats (16-9, 5-7) at 6 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2) in Bramlage Coliseum, a site they won at last season, 76-63.

Morris scored 19 points that day — and 11 of those points came in the final 5:36. He leads the Cyclones by averaging 16 points per game this season, all the while protecting the ball at a peerless rate. Morris also ranks fourth in the NCAA in minutes played per game, making his propensity to produce without miscues all the more …

“Remarkable,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “Especially the way that he’s getting his assists. It’s off passing, you know, it’s finding guys in transition or it’s in the half-court, but it’s a lot of jump shots. He’s finding guys for jump shots and open shots and making the right reads. He’s a terrific, terrific player and like I said, if you look at his stats across the board in conference play, there’s not a bad number. There’s nothing you can pick apart. Everything is on the high, high, high, high end.”

That must remain to be the case if the Cyclones are to solidify their spot in the upper half of the Big 12 — and avoid flirting with the 8/9 line for the NCAA Tournament.

As for Morris, his numbers come as a matter of course. It’s part of his DNA. As a young player punching above his weight in AAU ball, he grew extremely averse to turning the ball over. Ever. It’s why he’s so efficient, then and now. It’s also why ISU has a chance to close out the regular season strong despite being soundly outrebounded most every night.

“I really don’t actually know numbers until someone tells me about it,” Morris said. “I just go out and play, man. I don’t think about turnovers. … I just know if I take care of the basketball we’ll be in good shape.”

Morris helped the Cyclones craft a 17-to-four assist-to-turnover ratio in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma.

He’s turned the ball over a total of nine times in Big 12 play, or once every 51.4 minutes of action.

Mind-boggling? You bet. But he’s focused on the finish line, not his splits.

“No kid my age, or a kid in college, understands things like this until you sit back when you’re done playing, or you get older and you see somebody else doing it, and you’re like, ‘Man, that’s amazing,’” Morris said. “So I really don’t know what I’m doing right now. Honestly. I’m just going out and playing, being a kid, and just living in the moment.”

SHOOTING STARS

Matt Thomas will never be 100 percent in terms of his ailing right foot this season. That’s a fact. So he’ll bike in practice, rep when he can, and sit at times, as well. Despite all of that, his shooting numbers have shot through the roof.

Thomas is 25-for-42 from 3-point range in the past six games (60 percent). He and Mitrou-Long are a combined 50 percent from distance in that span, averaging 7.2 made threes per contest.

“Whatever the exact injury is called, I don’t know, whether it’s bone spurs or whatnot, he’s resilient and like I’ve said, he’s one of the most diligent workers I’ve ever been around — his preparation, his habits and his attention to detail,” Prohm said of Thomas. “This means a lot to him, especially as a senior. So I wish he was a 100 percent healthy. He’s not, but I don’t think he’s fifty percent either. I thought he shot the ball really good the other night (4-for-5 from deep). Didn’t get as many shots, probably, as he has in the last couple games prior, but he made shots. He made big shots for us the other night, so we need that going forward obviously.”

ACTION JACKSON

Donovan Jackson has become more than just a stern defender off the bench for the Cyclones. He’s scoring the ball well, too. ISU is 9-1 when the talented junior college transfer plays 20-plus minutes — and he’s producing with a right wrist that still bothers him from time to time.

“My wrist isn’t 100 percent but I try not to think about it,” Jackson said. “Playing through still some pain, but it doesn’t matter at this point. I’m just learning how to deal with it.”

So far, so good. Jackson’s 11 of 20 from long range in the past five games and he’s scored in double digits in four of those matchups.

He also looks forward to Wednesday’s road game. Relishes it, even.

“I like playing on the road,” Jackson said. “I’ve always liked playing on the road. It’s a different environment. I love Hilton, too, but on the road, it’s different. You have to bring your A-game. You have to be at the top, because they always have the home-court advantage.”

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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