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MILWAUKEE — The Iowa State men’s basketball team walked into its locker room, down double digits at halftime, and was teetering on the edge of getting run out of the arena.
Even so, Coach Steve Prohm didn’t sense any panic in his team.
He’d seen his players be resilient before. He knew they had it in them again. The chatter amongst the players, Prohm felt, had an upbeat tone to it.
“I talked to them about why you play a regular season and a tournament,” Prohm said. “Because you’re going to go through things that now, alright, we’ve been tested. We’ve been in this situation.”
The speech and mindset worked, but ultimately fell a couple plays short. No. 4 seed Purdue outlasted No. 5 seed Iowa State 80-76 on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Cyclones (24-11) ended the season one win short of a third Sweet 16 berth in the last four seasons.
“I honestly don’t know how it feels right now,” said senior Deonte Burton, who had a game-high 25 points with four rebounds. “I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now. I don’t even feel like we lost right now. I think I’m in shock.”
Purdue (27-7) had the Cyclones reeling in the first half, going on a 15-5 run in the final 3 1/2 minutes to go up 13. The first several minutes of the second half weren’t swell either.
Backdoor layups and dunks out of timeouts sent the Boilermakers to a 58-39 lead with just more than 14 minutes remaining. Iowa State struggled to get good looks all night against Purdue’s length, but the players were calm within the huddle. The buckets would come.
“It definitely could have gotten ugly, but I’m just glad we went out and competed,” said point guard Monte Morris, who had 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds in his final collegiate game. “Everybody watching knows this program is on the up and up and I’m happy we were just able to compete.”
A 3-pointer from senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long lifted the lid off the basket, and started to generate some buzz. Triples by Morris and junior point guard Donovan Jackson highlighted a 23-9 run that brought the Cyclones to within five with less than seven minutes to play.
Iowa State took a 73-71 lead, its first of the night, with 3:11 to go. But that’s when the mojo ran out. A fortunate bounce on P.J. Thompson’s 3-pointer and a couple turnovers sullied the chance for the Cyclones to complete a comeback against a Boilermakers team that has lost only twice since the beginning of February.
Purdue’s Vince Edwards had 21 points and 10 rebounds while Caleb Swanigan had 20 points and 12 boards with three 3s. Iowa State’s Matt Thomas had 20 points, six rebounds and was 9-for-11 from the field.
“You can do all the crying you want,” Morris said. “I had a few tears, but it was a hell of a career here for me and these seniors, so it’s nothing to hold our head down for. We came back from 13 and competed.
“Of course we wanted to win, but everybody knew we laid it out there, taking the lead against a good team.”
Tears fell because everyone inside the locker room in the Bradley Center knew something special ended. Since 2013-14, Iowa State won 100 games — the most in a four-year stretch in school history — with Morris, Mitrou-Long and Thomas all leaving as three of the four all-time wins leaders in school history.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything because it’s been the most special times of my life,” Mitrou-Long said. “We just believed. We believed and we did right up until the buzzer, man. That’s what brought us back.”
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