Experience won out in Thursday's penultimate March Madness contest as No. 5 Iowa State held off No. 12 Nevada by a score of 84-73 in a Midwest Regional contest at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Both teams came into this game red-hot. Iowa State had won nine of its last 10 games, including the Big 12 championship, and Nevada was working on a nine-contest winning streak, including a blistering run to the Mountain West Conference championship.
The Cyclones, who have made the NCAA tournament six years running, were the more polished team from start to finish, knocking down 8-of-19 from three-point range and getting plenty of easy buckets at the rim throughout.
Barstool Big Cat clearly enjoyed the contest:
Point guard Monte Morris flirted with a triple-double, finishing with a team-high 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Four other players scored in double-digits for the Cyclones, including senior guard Deonte Burton, who had 14.
Cyclone Radio Network's Brent Blum put it simply in discussing Morris:
The Wolf Pack, making their first tournament appearance in a decade, boasted one of the best three-point defenses in the nation (30.7 percent per NCAA.com), but the easy buckets inside seemed to hurt them the most. Tired legs might've played a part as Nevada relied heavily on its starting five.
Wolf Pack head coach Eric Musselman brought in one lone substitute, Josh Hall, during the contest. The Cyclones bench outscored Hall 20-4.
Cameron Oliver paced Nevada with 22 points, with Jordan Caroline close behind with 20 of his own. Marcus Marshall had a somewhat quiet game but still chipped in 16 points thanks to a strong second half.
The Cyclones boasted something akin to hometown advantage over the Wolf Pack with the school's relative proximity to Milwaukee and three players hailing from the city. It led to a comfortable atmosphere for the team.
"The city has been very good for us recruiting-wise," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said, per Jay Cohen of the Associated Press. "Hopefully, it's very good for us the next couple days playing-wise as well. It's great to be in a location where their families can come and our fans can come."
The game was fast-paced right from the get-go. Both teams made over 300 three-pointers during the season but struggled from deep early on. Marshall, Nevada's leading scorer at 19.7 points per game, was held scoreless nearly the first 13 minutes but made an entrance with a deep three-pointer.
Eventually, Iowa State found a rhythm by getting some easy buckets. This thunderous dunk from the burly Burton showed the perimeter-reliant team could be a force inside, per NCAA March Madness:
Crisp ball movement from the Cyclones—spearheaded by Morris—opened up Nevada's defense and led Iowa State to a 40-27 lead by halftime.
The first-half capper was a beauty of an alley-oop, per CBS Sports:
At the half, Iowa State was shooting 51.7 percent from the floor, Nevada just 30 percent, well below its season average of 45 percent. The Reno Gazette-Journal's Chris Murray provided a second-half prescription for the Wolf Pack:
Nevada followed suit for the most part, with Caroline attacking the rim and getting to the line often, while the team as a whole did a better job on the boards. A 13-point Cyclone lead at the half shrunk to four by the 9:55 mark, with the Wolf Pack effort keyed by Oliver and Caroline.
However, the Cyclones went on a 9-0 run to get back a double-digit lead despite Morris' spending almost the entirety of that run on the bench.
Nevada did well to keep the game close but could never quite overcome the Cyclones' heady play. Finishing at the rim proved to be a problem, per Andy Glockner:
Morris drew five free throws in the final three minutes and sank them all, stymying Nevada's gutsy efforts to steal this game from the higher-seeded squad.
Iowa State advances to face No. 4 Purdue. It will be the first meeting of the season between these two Midwest programs. Purdue defeated No. 13 Vermont 80-70 Thursday but will face a much tougher test in the Cyclones, who have an excellent floor general in Morris and scorers throughout the lineup.
Advanced stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
Prohm said Iowa State's tenacity on defense set the tone for the game, per Murray:
The Cyclones head coach also heaped praise on Morris.
“Monte is the best point guard in the country. It’s not a debate,” he said, per IowaStateDaily.com's Ryan Young. “What a season he’s had and this last stretch of it. We’re playing great because he’s playing great. We’re playing great because he’s the catalyst.”