KANSAS CITY -- Monte Morris wasn’t nervous, and if he was it didn’t show as the sophomore guard made his way up court with each of the final 5.8 precious seconds ticking away in a tie game.
Iowa State had drawn up a play for Morris to come off a slip screen and get to the rim, but now he was stuck near the Cyclones’ bench. He made contact with Texas guard Demarcus Holland, leaned back and fired off a 20-foot jumper as the buzzer sounded and the hoop flashed red.
“I just prayed and hoped and shot a fadeaway,” Morris said afterward. “I don’t really take fadeaways, but I knew [it was going in]. It was a great shot, I got a great look and it went down.”
As Morris’ shot sank through the net at the Sprint Center, his mother began to cry in the stands as his teammates tackled him to the ground. The heroics lifted Iowa State to a 69-67 comeback victory against Texas, sending a crowd comprised of mostly cardinal and gold into a frenzy.
On a night when Iowa State trailed by as many as 16 in the game’s first half of the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals, the Cyclones made the improbable probable with a late spurt even when such an effort appeared unlikely.
“It’s hard to describe,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Every time we made a little run they had an answer. That can be deflating. We’d hit a shot to cut it to seven and they’d take 33 seconds off the clock and hit a 3. Then it gets back up to 10. That could cause some quit in guys, but our guys found a way to fight through that and just make play after play down the stretch.”
Iowa State started sluggishly for the third time in as many games, trailing by 11 at the break. The Cyclones went on an unprecedented scoring drought of 9 minutes, 45 seconds in the game’s first half to fall behind.
“It was a drought, one of the biggest droughts all year,” Morris said. “We didn’t see the ball go in. We were playing stink basketball. We weren’t getting it moving, we weren’t playing with pace.”
Hoiberg preached pace at halftime after Iowa State shot 36.7 percent from the field in the first half, and Morris took note.
Out of the break, Iowa State quickly hit 3s to begin cutting into the Texas lead, but the Cyclones watched the Longhorns answer each time. With 3 minutes, 35 seconds to play, Iowa State still trailed by 10 as Texas went to a four corners offense to stall. Morris promptly hit two free throws to draw within single digits.
After Georges Niang drew Iowa State closer with a pair of free throws 11 seconds later, Dustin Hogue hit a spot-up 3 with 2:18 to play to make it a one possession game. Iowa State forced a 10-second violation on Texas before Morris tied the game at 67-all with 1:47 remaining.
“He was unbelievable,” Hoiberg said of Morris. “That’s as good a game as Monte Morris has played. That’s saying something, because he’s had some darn good games in his couple years at Iowa State.”
There was still more.
After Texas missed a go-ahead attempt with nine second remaining, Hogue grabbed a rebound and quickly called for a timeout. Iowa State drew up a familiar play — similar to the one that got DeAndre Kane a game-winning basket in last season’s NCAA tournament — and Morris would drive to the hoop.
Then the sophomore got stuck. Instead of freezing, Morris faded away from the basket and launched the fateful shot.
“Around here we call Monte ‘Big Game Tae,’ so he definitely lived up to it,” said Niang, who scored 22. “He just made a play. That’s not exactly how we drew it up, but he made it look perfect.”
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Hoiberg added. “I just love the kid. He makes the right plays. You trust that he’s going to make the right play all the time. He’s just a flat out winner.”
Morris, who scored 24 points, flew to the ground in celebration as Iowa State advanced to the semifinals at the Big 12 Championship for the third straight season.
With as much confidence as he had when the shot left his hands, Morris sat at his locker not long after when a grin crossed his face.
“Mr. Big Game Tae,” Morris said, “that’s what everybody calls me.”