AMES, Iowa -- Monte Morris still couldn’t quite believe the layup somehow went in. Here he was several days removed, and he still talked about the play in wonderment.
Morris’ body had been contorted and was flailing through the air, his right eye was barely open while his left closed tightly shut as blood rushed to the surface. Yet somehow the ball had gotten above the 6-foot-8 defender’s outstretched arms and somehow it had found its way into the basket.
“I opened my eye about that much in this eye,” Morris says, holding his thumb and index finger just a sliver apart while pointing to his right eye. “I don’t know how the layup went in. I think it was due respect to Hilton Magic.”
Something like that.
“He’s a warrior,” coach Fred Hoiberg offers. “He’s a strong kid. He’s going to keep getting back up and keep going.”
This particular spill, which caused Morris to exit with blood streaming from below his left eye, was the third in as many days. The sophomore point guard took two blows in Iowa State’s loss to Kansas State two days prior, hitting an and-one free throw after one to help the Cyclones take a late lead.
Morris got up from both and played Monday, even after sustaining knots in his neck and symptoms comparable to whiplash. Welcome to life in Morris’ 6-foot-2 frame driving the lane against Big 12 powers.
“He’s taken his bumps and bruises,” teammate Georges Niang said. “He’s really come back stronger the next time out. I sort of feel bad for him, I know what it feels like to bleed from your eye. He’s better than me, he got up and got right back out there, I wasn’t that fortunate. Credit to him, he’s a tough kid. You know those Michigan kids never lay down for anybody. I expect that out of Monte.”
The production, in turn, has not lacked.
In Iowa State’s last six games, Morris is averaging 34 minutes per game. In those minutes, the sophomore has averaged 13.6 points, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game while turning it over on average just more than one time per game.
“He’s just one of those wiry, strong kids,” Hoiberg said. “He never gets tired. There’s just certain guys that are blessed with that. Monte can go all day.”
The last two games, Morris said, have been the most physical and hardest-fought games he’s played in during his nearly two full seasons at Iowa State.
There just might be a reason, too.
“I feel like [teams] just want to take me out of the game,” Morris said. “You can tell a lot of teams that we’re playing [are] picking me up full court and denying me and things like that, trying to get the ball out of my hands. We’re still finding a way to keep me in a groove and not have me disappear out there.”
When Morris had gotten up from his most recent spill and returned home after Iowa State’s historic 21-point comeback win, his eye had begun to swell. As he does after every game, Morris fired up FaceTime to talk with his mother.
“Her biggest thing was worrying about my eye,” Morris said of the conversation. “She was like, ‘Oh, they got my baby’s eye messed up.’ You know how she is. She’s alright now knowing I’m pretty good.”