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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Monte Morris often speaks of leaving his jersey in a better place.
When his brilliant Iowa State career ends, his No. 11 jersey will be positioned as well as any in program history. Three Big 12 tournament titles in four years leaves a mark.
“We go by the code if you want to be legendary, you’ve got to work,” Morris said. “This group with me, Naz (Mitrou-Long) and Matt (Thomas), was able to get three. We just went in the gym all summer and always wanted to do that.”
No. 4 seed Iowa State won its third game in three days, beating No. 2 seed West Virginia 80-74 in the Big 12 tournament title game. The win gave the Cyclones (23-10) their third tournament championship in four years, and gives the senior class 99 wins — it’s now tied for the most by one class in school history.
“I’m off for words about it,” Morris said on the court inside Sprint Center. “I’m going to soak it in. It’s something that I don’t really know what I’ve done because I’m only 21. So when I get older I can reminisce on it.”
Morris’ 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals capped a tournament run that ended with him being named the Big 12 tournament Most Oustanding Player. Mitrou-Long and Thomas were also on the All-Championship team and join Morris as the only three players in school history to win nine conference tournament games.
“It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm. “What these seniors have been able to do, but then to stay hungry and continue to want it and go back again and get it. This year to do it when people counted you out 6-8 weeks ago, it’s special.”
Iowa State was 13-8 five weeks ago. Now it’s won 10 of its last 12 games and will become the first Division I men’s basketball team from the state of Iowa to make six straight NCAA tournament appearances.
Mitrou-Long gathered his teammates together on the court as the confetti fell around them, calling their tournament title destiny. After getting swept by the Mountaineers (26-8) in the regular season — both losses by double digits — and trailing for just 16 minutes in the entire tournament, he might have a point.
This run to the title was a little more than destiny, though. Morris is playing the best basketball of his career — basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb tweeted, “Monte Morris has had the best career as a point guard in the history of the @Big12Conference”
“He’s the best PG in the country in my eyes,” said junior Donovan Jackson. “The award he just won, I told him as soon as he got it, that was his Bob Cousy Award just because I feel like he deserves that too. He’s the best point guard I’ve ever played with.”
Morris — who surpassed Georges Niang to become the program’s all-time wins leader (99) — made a to-do list when he decided last summer that the NBA dream could wait another year.
“Just win at KU, we did that,” Morris said. “Finish top three in the league, we did that. Get on all-conference team, we did that. Get a Big 12 championship, we did that.
“We still want to make a run in March and get to (the Final Four in) Phoenix.”
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