DENVER (AP) — His right shoulder no longer throbbing, Monte Morris felt good about Iowa State’s ability to make amends Thursday.
“The shoulder felt great. We’ve got a great training staff. They did everything for me these past weeks to get me back feeling good,” Morris said. “Yesterday in practice it let me know mentally that I could shoot the ball at an efficient rate.”
So, after a good night’s rest, he let it fly in warmups.
With no lingering effects of the painful right shoulder injury that hampered him a week earlier in a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 tourney, Morris scored 20 points and dished out eight assists in Iowa State’s 94-81 win over 14th-seeded Iona in the NCAA Tournament.
“The only worry I had was losing this game again,” Morris said, recalling the Cyclones’ stunning 60-59 loss to 14th-seeded UAB in the NCAA tournament a year ago.
“If I wasn’t able to get it going offensively I was going to do everything I could on the defensive end to be successful.”
Georges Niang’s 28 points led the No. 3 seed Cyclones (22-11), who had all five of their starters score in double figures — and put up all but two of the team’s points.
“Man, I felt like since Sunday all I’ve been hearing is `Iona is going to upset Iowa State. A.J. English, A.J. English, A.J. English,”‘ Niang said. “I was like, `What about the Iowa State Cyclones? They’re pretty good.’ This is huge for us. This is motivation. We really wanted to beat these guys to really show people we’re real. This is a real team we have here.”
Morris showed just how healthy he was, running an efficient offense that shot 50 percent from the floor and stifled high-scoring Iona (22-11), which was led by A.J. English’s 28 points and Jordan Washington’s 26.
That wasn’t enough to keep up with the balanced Cyclones, who got 19 points from Abdel Nader, 14 from Matt Thomas and 11 from Jameel McKay.
“We tried to slow them down,” English said. “We just couldn’t.”
The Gaels cut an 18-point second-half deficit to seven with just under three minutes remaining when English hit a pair of free throws to make it 83-76. The comeback fizzled, however, after English was whistled for traveling on the next possession and then drew a technical foul during a timeout.
“We were having fun the whole game, that’s what I felt like. It was basketball players talking to each other. Honestly I was smiling when I was talking back to the player and I didn’t understand why the ref made the call on me,” English said
“I’m just sad somebody had to make that call toward the end of the game,” he added. “If that’s the case. If he didn’t want anybody talking trash then from the beginning of the game just call it whether it’s on me or whoever else. But it happens. One tech doesn’t lose game.”
Iona coach Tim Cluess concurred: “There was talk going back and forth all game long. The referee was standing there. Both parties were jawing at each other. Though time to call it. I’m going to leave it at that.”
After jumping out to a 5-0 lead, the Gaels watched the Cyclones seize control with a blistering 16-2 run engineered by Niang, Iowa State’s first two-time All-American.
The Gaels were playing catch-up the rest of the way.
They trailed 45-33 at halftime and every time they made a run, Iowa State pushed back with its superior quickness, size and athleticism — with Morris leading the way.
As CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported, this was Iona’s third trip to the dance in six years, but they haven’t won since Jim Valvano coached them in 1980.
Fans at a bar in New Rochelle wanted to believe the double digit underdog could pull off the upset.
“They can play with anyone if they start hitting their 3-pointers. They run up and down the court,” Bob Mulvena said.
Iona is a small school of 3,800 students the tight-knit community stayed together every step of the way.
“Anytime Iona makes the tournament it’s a successful season,” Steve Sherman said.
While the quest for a title will have to wait another year, fans said it doesn’t diminish the fantastic season.
Iona: The Gaels are officially 0-10 in the NCAA Tournament. Their 84-78 win over Holy Cross in 1980 was vacated because of NCAA violations.
Iowa State: Despite little depth, the Cyclones advanced to their school record fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament on the strength of wins over currently top-ranked Kansas and seventh-ranked Oklahoma.
Iowa State: In their first win since Feb. 29, the Cyclones kept the Gaels at bay by sinking 20 of 25 free throws. They outshot Iona from the floor, 3-point range and the line.
Iona: The Gaels shot just 39 percent in the first half and missed 11 of 13 3-pointers. Moreover, they grabbed just five offensive boards and that lack of second-chance points put them in an early hole from which they couldn’t climb out.
Iowa State: The Cyclones play in the second round Saturday.
Iona: The Gaels bid farewell to three starting seniors — English, Isaiah Williams and Ibn Muhammad.
(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)