No. 23 Iowa State beats No. 11 W Virginia for Big 12 title
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Everybody on the Iowa State bench got a snippet of net from the Big 12 Tournament.
Monte Morris got just about the whole thing.
It was only fitting the most valuable player in the Big 12 Tournament, the senior guard who kept willing the No. 23 Cyclones to victory, got to hang the net around his neck. Morris scored 17 points in the title game Saturday night to send Iowa State to an 80-74 victory over No. 11 West Virginia.
It was the third title in four years for the Cyclones.
Third in four years for Morris, too.
“Monte is great. You win with great players,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, who won his first title in his second season in charge. “I was very fortunate to walk into him being our point guard.”
Deonte Burton added 16 points and Matt Thomas finished with 12 for the fourth-seeded Cyclones (23-10), who will enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games, their only loss during that stretch coming a week ago in Morgantown.
They avenged that defeat in a big way at the Sprint Center.
“Two years ago, we won this same tournament and the next week, our lives were miserable. We lost to UAB,” Morris said. “We just have to keep everyone together. That’s our job, being seniors.”
Iowa State has never lost in four appearances in the Big 12 title game, while the Mountaineers (26-8) remain without a conference tournament title of any kind since winning the Big East in 2010.
“Everybody says it’s hard to play against us with one-day prep, but I think it’s really hard to play against them with one-day prep as well,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said, “because they shoot the ball so well and spread you out so much.”
Jevon Carter had 18 points for West Virginia, which will no doubt rue its 8-for-17 shooting from the foul line. Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles Jr. and Elijah Macon finished with 10 points apiece.
“We just have to get better,” Ahmad said. “Just got to get back in the gym.”
The No. 2-seeded Mountaineers had been a scourge for the Cyclones the past two years, winning the last four meetings in relatively easy fashion. But the hallmark of those games had been their ability to get easy baskets against an Iowa State team that doesn’t always play defense.
There were no easy buckets Saturday night.
Iowa State threw down its own half-court press against Press Virginia, and caused 10 first-half turnovers that gave the sea of red inside Sprint Center reason to stand from its seats.
The biggest roars from the Cyclones faithful came late in the half, when Bowie came off the bench to score 10 points in quick succession. He checked out to a standing ovation, and Morris took over from there, hitting Iowa State’s final three baskets of the half for a 35-29 lead.
After drilling a long 3 as time expired, Morris rode an imaginary horse off to the locker room.
“He’s a good player, one of the best point guards in the country,” Carter said. “He hit some tough shots tonight. I feel like I did a good job on him, he just hit some tough shots.”
The whooping and hollering continued in the second half, when Burton hit a pair of 3s and Thomas hit another, pushing Iowa State’s lead to 10. And that caused tempers to boil over on the West Virginia bench, where Huggins was given a technical foul with 15:46 to play.
Thomas hit both of the foul shots as the lead stretched to 50-38.
The Mountaineers eventually turned to the 1-3-1 zone that caused Kansas State all kinds of trouble in the semifinals. But the ball-handling of Morris, Burton and Co. allowed the Cyclones to deal with the frequent trapping attempts, and that created enough open looks to keep West Virginia at bay.
As chants of “I-S-U!” rattled the building, Iowa State coach Steve Prohm allowed Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long to check out with seconds left, the pair of seniors relishing in the moment.
Fellow seniors Morris and Burton joined the jubilant celebration as the clock hit zero.
“This is an amazing moment for our program,” Prohm said. “We were good enough defensively tonight to win. We were tough enough to win. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Both teams will probably be a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Huggins joked that it probably means playing his former school Cincinnati or Kentucky along the way.
“We’ll play somebody second round, somebody like Cincinnati or Kentucky or somebody like that,” Huggins said. “I don’t know how the numbers always work out that way, but somehow they find a way for the numbers to work out where (Kentucky coach John Calipari) and I end up in the same region.
“I don’t think they could stand both of us at the Final Four.”
Iowa State gave Prohm his first Big 12 Tournament title after he took over for Fred Hoiberg, the popular former player and coach who guided the Cyclones to championships in 2014 and ’15.
West Virginia lost despite hitting eight 3-pointers and shooting 51.8 percent from the field in part because its defense let it down. Iowa State is 16-0 when scoring at least 80 this season.
Both teams settle in to learn their NCAA Tournament seeds on Sunday.