AMES, IOWA — In the quest to determine just how Iowa State was able to upend Kansas by double figures on Big Monday, every person who took part ultimately arrived back at the same conclusion.
Georges Niang sat to the left of coach Steve Prohm, pondering that very question while glancing right to help him answer it. He had scored 15 of his 19 points in the game’s second half as No. 14 Iowa State turned defense into offense in an eventual 85-72 win against No. 4 Kansas and yet deflected credit.
How was Iowa State able to surge past Kansas?
“Plain and simple, that guy over there, man,” Niang explained, motioning to point guard Monte Morris. “We go as he goes.”
And boy, did Iowa State go.
By the time all was said and done, neither Prohm nor teammate Matt Thomas were aware of the exact stat line next to Morris’ name and yet both were quick to note that this particular performance felt special.
For Morris, it felt normal, maybe because it has become the norm.
“I was just letting the game come to me,” Morris said.
Iowa State went to the break trailing Kansas by seven points after the Jayhawks shot nearly 58 percent from the field in the game’s first half and scored nearly half of their points in the paint, many hardly contested.
When all was said and done, Iowa State would shoot 64 percent, hold Kansas to 40 percent and outscore the Jayhawks by 20 all in the second half en route to its fourth win against Bill Self’s squad in the last five meetings.
“We weren’t good enough defensively to win the game in the first half,” Prohm said. “They changed their mindset in the second half. Obviously 49-29 [in the second half], that was a terrific effort by all those guys. When we turned our defense into offense that really changed the game.”
That shift came midway through the second half.
With 9 minutes, 35 seconds remaining, a Niang jumper evened the score at 57. Only 27 seconds later, Deonte Burton sparked the crowd with a 3-pointer from the top to give Iowa State a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.
“Once we knotted it up and took the lead and the crowd was involved, I knew it was over,” said Thomas, who scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and racked up four steals. “That’s just how it happens at Hilton. When we get our fans in the game, it’s really tough to play. They got tense I felt and started missing shots and we just thrived off that.”
In a span of 2 minutes, 27 seconds, the Cyclones would use an 11-0 run to build a nine-point lead on the Jayhawks. The run was helped first by steals on four consecutive Kansas possessions and then by Morris. He assisted on both Niang and Burton’s buckets, made a layup of his own and then assisted on an alley-oop to Abdel Nader before Nader capped the run with two free throws.
“Monte was great,” Thomas said. “He’s been great for us all year. When the ball is in his hands, something good pretty much always happens.”
When all was said and done Monday, the stat line next to Morris’ name had, without much notice, filled up. Morris had tallied 40 minutes, scored 21 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out nine assists all with no turnovers.
“He’s playing really well right now,” Prohm said. “He’s a special kid.”
Just asked Kansas.
“Morris was the best player in the game,” Self said. “He dominated. Dominated.”