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MILWAUKEE — A golden era in Iowa State basketball history is over.
An 80-76 loss to Purdue in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at the Bradley Center brought about the end of something greater. Some of the most influential players in Cyclones history saw their collegiate careers halted.
Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton were within a couple plays of overcoming a 19-point deficit to edge the Boilermakers to reach another Sweet 16. They fell just short.
The passage of time is usually needed to gain perspective on players or an era. Not this time.
“They had a renaissance of Iowa State basketball,” said coach Steve Prohm. “They brought it back. Now it’s our job, and my staff and the younger guys to continue to make them proud.”
Since 2013-14, Iowa State has won 100 games. Morris became the all-time wins leader — surpassing Georges Niang — playing in all 100 victories. He’s first in ISU games played (140), first in assists (768), first in steals (225), first in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.65) and 11th in points (1,708).
Mitrou-Long is second in career 3-pointers (260) and tied for second in wins played (98). Thomas is tied for second in wins played (98), tied for second in games played (138) and is third career 3-pointers (254). In Burton’s 1 1/2 seasons, he rose to 15th in career blocked shots (65).
“When you look at the jersey numbers 11, 21 and 30 and 15, you can really look back and say we left our jerseys in a better place,” Mitrou-Long said. “For the generation of young guys, man, we set the bar at an elite level.
“Everyone in the country and the world knows who Iowa State is and I can’t wait to look back and see the group continue to be elite.”
Morris, Mitrou-Long and Thomas rose the standard at Iowa State. None experienced a postseason without an NCAA tournament berth, and all helped the Cyclones become the first Division I men’s basketball team in the state of Iowa to go to six straight tournaments.
Before 2012 — the year before Mitrou-Long’s arrival — Iowa State had gone to only three NCAA tournaments since the turn of the millennium.
The trio won three Big 12 tournament championships and went to two Sweet 16s. None won less than 20 games in a season their entire careers. No ISU players played in more NCAA tournament games than Morris and Thomas (9).
“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.
“I hate to end it like this. It had to end one day, man, and I just want to say thank you to all my teammates and Cyclone Nation.”
Standing outside the locker room inside the Bradley Center, Prohm got teary as he rifled through memories about coaching the seniors. This group was part of a culture change.
“Those are my guys. You know what I mean?” Prohm said. “Fred (Hoiberg) signed them and Fred did an amazing job bringing this program back and signing those guys, but those are my guys. Those are my guys.
“We’ll continue to recruit well and we’ll continue to keep the program at the level it’s expected and accustomed to being at over the last six years.”
Here is Steve Prohm's post-game after Purdue pic.twitter.com/6dWjvOMCo0— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneMBB) March 19, 2017
With the loss of Morris, Mitrou-Long, Thomas, Burton and seniors Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden, junior point guard Donovan Jackson becomes the de facto veteran.
Freshman Solomon Young started the last 12 games of the season and will be in line to be a major contributor next season. Alongside Jackson, the experience of playing alongside veterans — especially ones with the level of success as this group — was invaluable.
“I was originally going to redshirt just because I didn’t think I was going to play enough and stuff like that,” Jackson said. “But playing with these guys, they taught me a whole lot on and off the court.
“Monte Morris, man, he taught me everything. I’m going to use what he gave me and all the other seniors and I’m going to be ready for next year. Trust me.”
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