Iowa State coach Steve Prohm didn’t wait to be asked about how he felt about Monte Morris’ omission from postseason honors, namely his absence from the list of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top point guard.
“Mr. Bob Cousy, down there is the best point guard in the country,” Prohm said by way of introducing Morris in a media session after the Cyclones defeated Oklahoma State 92-83 in a Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal game. “He’s not going to say it, so I’ll say it for him; he would have a been a great representative of that award.”
Especially after Thursday’s effort, when Morris recorded 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
No surprise with the points and assists, with Morris’ averages of 16.2 and 6.2 entering the game. The team-high rebounding total was a nice addition and matched a career high.
Morris, the Big 12 preseason player of the year who lost out on that award to Kansas’ Frank Mason this year, said he’s motivated by the snubs.
“Definitely,” Morris said. “I just play with a chip on my shoulder. Obviously I haven’t showed enough, so I’m going to take it head-on.”
Prohm doesn’t know what more Morris can show. Morris leads the nation in assist-turnover ratio at 6.17-1 and likely will finish first in that category for the third straight year.
As for the triple-double, Morris said he knew he was close but wasn’t going to force the issue.
“People were telling me,” Morris said. “But you don’t play for stats, you play for the win.”
Iowa State (21-10) was on its way to the victory after a key second-half sequence. Not surprisingly, Morris was in the middle of it.
With the Cyclones leading 64-59, Morris stuck an elbow jumper. Moments later he assisted on Donovan Jackson’s three-pointers on successive possessions, the second created when Morris blocked Jawun Evans’ drive.
Iowa State led 72-61, and Morris let out a yell as he walked to the bench after Oklahoma State took a timeout to assess the damage.
Morris played in last year’s tournament with an injured shoulder and the Cyclones were knocked out in the first game.
But he and several other Iowa State veteran players have plenty of experience in this event, winning the tournament in 2014 and 2015. Thursday’s effort — Iowa State made seven of its eight three-pointers in the second half — showed the Cyclones are ready to make another deep run at the Sprint Center.
Both teams are headed to the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State was looking to make Brad Underwood’s first Big 12 Tournament experience as a head coach a positive one.
But the Cowboys started slowly and played from behind most the day. They fell to Iowa State for the third time this season and have lost 10 straight in the series. The all-time series now stands at 63-63.
The Cyclones jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half, and Morris’ three-pointer increased the margin to 35-23 with 6:33 remaining in the half.
Then Iowa State went cold and the Cowboys caught a spark. Evans became more active, attacking the basket, and Oklahoma State chipped away.
Evans’ two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining made it 39-36 at the break, the Cowboys’ closest margin since the opening 5 minutes.
Oklahoma State entered the game with nation’s most efficient offense, according to basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy, but the Cowboys struggled to find the hoop early.
Once Evans got going, so did the Cowboys. Jeffrey Carroll’s three-pointer closed the Oklahoma State deficit to 45-44, and it was 48-46 when the Cyclones started to stretch the lead again. Evans finished with 29 points.
But moments later, Morris went on his flurry that would have made Cousy, the former Holy Cross and Boston Celtics great, proud.
The Cyclones will face TCU, an upset winner over top-seeded Kansas, in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday.