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AMES — Monte Morris doesn’t try to sugarcoat the issues he’s facing with his shoulder. He’s in pain.
Iowa State’s junior point guard has been dealing with a strained right rotator cuff — his shooting shoulder — for the better part of a week after a collision with Frank Mason III at Kansas. Morris heard from an ISU trainer the pain wouldn’t subside for about three weeks — well into the NCAA tournament.
For the Cyclones men’s basketball team to make a deep run, Morris knows pain management is all he can hope for. No. 4 seed Iowa State begins its run into March against 13th-seeded Iona in Denver on Thursday at 1 p.m. (TBS).
NCAA Tournament: Bracket, schedule TV listings
“I’m just trying to take the positive route about it and try to wake up one day and God put a miracle together and I can get back to being myself,” Morris said. “Other than that, it’s a shoulder injury and it sucks that it’s on my shooting arm.”
That pain in Morris’ shoulder could have certainly been a factor in the loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament — he was 1-for-9 shooting with two assists — but the Cousy Award finalist hasn’t been himself for more than two weeks.
Spanning the Cyclones’ last four games, Morris is shooting 25.8 percent from the field with nine turnovers — he had 45 turnovers through the first 28 games. Iowa State is 19-7 in games in which the Flint, Mich., native scores double figures and 2-4 when he doesn’t.
If Iowa State is to make a deep March run, Morris has to be the distributor and occasional inside scoring threat he was for almost 90 percent of this season.
“I think he’ll be ready to go,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm. “We’ll just do rehab and keep working. We’ll try to get the muscles feeling good and then it’s game on. He’s always been best when he’s been needed on the big stage and so I don’t expect anything less from him on Thursday.”
Morris hasn’t participated in a full practice with the team since the injury on March 5, but has gone through some shootarounds. The majority of his attention has gone toward rehab. He described the pain during the Big 12 tournament as his shoulder seeming to lag behind the rest of his body, so he’s done work to relief tension in his muscles.
Morris averages a team-high 38 minutes per game and has played 40 minutes or more 11 times this season. He doesn’t need the practice reps, but he does need to find some way to put the pain on the back burner of his mind.
“I know that guy is a dog and he’s going to show up in every big game that we have,” said senior Georges Niang. “So I’m not worried about him at all. Whether it’s injury or non-injury, that kid is a fighter. He’s been a fighter his whole life.
“I’m just blessed to play alongside someone that really puts the team first and is going to do anything to help us win.”
It’s easy to look at the altitude of Denver and the short bench of Iowa State and say the Cyclones need Morris to at least be another body. But replacing the national record holder in assist-to-turnover ratio can’t and won’t be replaced, especially on the sport’s biggest stage.
“In joking around, you’d say, ‘Hey if we could play Friday that would be better just to get one more day,’” Prohm said. “But he’s not sitting out of this game. This is for all the marbles now.”
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