AMES, IOWA — Monte Morris has relished in his self-given Mr. Big Game moniker, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.
“What else can you say about what he did?” coach Fred Hoiberg wondered Saturday. “Just an unbelievable line. He shot the heck out of it.”
Morris scored 19 points (on 6-of-8 from the field and 4-of-4 from 3), dished out five assists, grabbed three rebounds and three steals and turned the ball over one lone time against the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year on Saturday as No. 14 Iowa State cruised to a 79-59 win against No. 21 West Virginia.
As if it were needed, Mr. Big Game made a big statement.
“That’s the difference between good players and bad players,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, pondering Morris’ game. “Bad players want to show the world what they can do and good players stay within themselves and do what they can do.”
Morris actually did both.
A slow-starting and foul-laden first half was closed with a 7-2 run by Iowa State as the Cyclones took a four-point lead to the break helped by a late Matt Thomas 3-pointer. Iowa State received 32 points off the bench in the bounce-back victory.
While big runs by opponents have plagued the Cyclones at times this season, there was no such instance to be found Saturday. "It’s like a round in boxing," Hoiberg said, "you have to win every round." Enter the second half.
"That was one of our biggest keys was coming out and throwing the first punch,” Morris said. “With us having the ball the first possession we tried to get something good.”
Iowa State started the second half on a 14-2 run to build a game-high 20-point lead on West Virginia. Morris hit back-to-back 3s (two of his career-high four) during the run, and Iowa State never looked back.
Against Juwan Staten, tabbed as the conference's early pick for Player of the Year, Morris proved himself again. Staten scored 16 and dished out seven assists, but Morris matched him.
“Monte gave us an opportunity to win the game because of the fact that he went toe-to-toe with Juwan Staten. That’s not easy to do,” Hoiberg said. “Monte isn’t going to back down from anybody, I don’t care who it is. He’s going to go out there and battle and scratch and claw and fight.”
Morris' roommate, Jameel McKay offered plenty to aid the victory, scoring 12 points while adding eight rebounds and five blocks.
“We believe that if we make the extra pass we’ve got good enough players to where they can make shots,” McKay said. “There’s not one player that you can game plan on and say, ‘If you stop them you can beat Iowa State.’ We do it collectively, as a group.”
Now, Iowa State looks ahead to a week that features two games on the road where the Cyclones have struggled midway through its Big 12 schedule.
"The way I look at it is it’s two opportunities," Hoiberg said. "You have to go out there and play 40 minutes of basketball. I’m excited to see how we fight through adversity this week when we go on the road. It will hit us and it’ll hit us hard."