Iowa State desperately needed a bucket. It desperately needed something — something to halt Oklahoma State’s charge.
The Cowboys had roared back from a 10-point deficit on senior night at Hilton Coliseum, and with the Cyclones clutching to a two-point lead with just over a minute remaining, they needed somebody to make a play. So they turned to the guy who has made plays for them without fail for four years, in 134 games, in 96 wins, in forgotten non-conference contests and Big 12 championships, in first halves and second halves, in this arena and elsewhere.
They turned to Monte Morris.
Then they turned to Monte Morris again.
First Morris got them that bucket to extend the lead to four. With it back down at two and Hilton again silenced, he bolted to the baseline to track down an offensive rebound. Falling out of bounds, he rifled it back toward the court, and to a teammate with 21 seconds to play.
And finally, up three coming out of a timeout with the clock showing 8.8 seconds, Morris didn’t even let Oklahoma State get the ball inbounds. He pestered Jawun Evans and forced a turnover to see Iowa State to victory in his final game in Ames. He dished out an assist on the ensuing inbounds play for good measure.
Morris’ stat line was vintage Morris: 12 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds, three steals, two blocks and only one turnover. Iowa State and Morris have won six in a row, and are by no means done, but Tuesday was a fitting end to a truly incredible career at Hilton.
College basketball fans revere Frank Mason and Lonzo Ball, gush about De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith, and fawn over the potential of Markelle Fultz. They’ve championed countless other point guards over the past four years, from D’Angelo Russell to Yogi Ferrell, Marcus Smart to Kris Dunn, Tyler Ulis to Tyus Jones.
None of them, however, not even Mason, has had the same four-year impact that Morris has had. Always overshadowed but never overmatched, he has been everything Iowa State needed him to be, and everything anybody would want a point guard to be. He played 28 minutes per game as a freshman, and over 35 per game the last three years combined. His offensive rating only once dipped below 125 at season’s end, and has never fallen out of the top 100 in Division I, even as his usage rates climbed as a senior.
The real mark of his brilliance, however, is his assist-to-turnover ratio, which is an absurd 6.1-to-1 so far this season. Morris leads college basketball in the category by a wide margin, and will top the Division I charts for the third time in four seasons. During Big 12 play, he’s turned the ball over just six times in the second half, and coughs it up, on average, once every 47 minutes. He’ll undoubtedly break the NCAA single-season record for assist-to-turnover ratio set by… Monte Morris in 2013-14.
But the fact that some of those stats haven’t been widely celebrated, the fact that they had to be sent out by Iowa State’s athletic communications staff on the eve of senior night, and the fact that PR emails have been flying to try to garner Morris more publicity tell you what you need to know about the gap between the appreciation Morris gets nationally and the appreciation his career deserves.
Morris, in so many ways, is the quintessential college point guard, a versatile scorer, an experienced floor general, a smart and disruptive defender, a creator of offense, and so much more. And he’s more or less been that way his whole career, ever since he started and played over 32 minutes per game in Big 12 play as a freshman alongside Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
He’s appreciated plenty in Ames. He’s appreciated for his two Big 12 tournament titles, soon-to-be four NCAA tournament appearances, and much, much more. His senior night speech, and the reception it got, was evidence of that.
Tuesday night was a fitting finale to a wonderful career — one that isn’t over, of course, but one that, once it is, won’t soon be forgotten. As Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said prior to Morris’ speech, “His jersey will be up there [in the rafters] whenever the law allows.”