MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A double-digit home loss to West Virginia three weeks ago remains a sore spot, and a turning point, for No. 24 Iowa State.
Since that 85-72 defeat on Jan. 31, the Cyclones have won seven of eight games, climbing off the NCAA bubble and into second place in the Big 12 standings.
Ahead of Friday night’s rematch against the No. 10 Mountaineers in Morgantown, point guard Monte Morris sounds hungry to make amends.
“We played terrible, terrible. And when you play terrible in this league, you lose,” he said.
Morris shot 4-of-14 and dished out only two assists during the first meeting, essentially neutered by the full-court traps of “Press Virginia.”
“I have to be more ball-dominant and be more aggressive,” Morris said. “Just got to man-up and get the ball when two guys take me away so that we can get into the offensive things. This time will definitely be different.”
“We played terrible, terrible. And when you play terrible in this league, you lose,” Morris said of Iowa State’s loss to WVU in Ames. “This time will definitely be different.”
While the Cyclones (20-9, 12-5) became a different-looking team down the stretch, West Virginia (23-7, 11-6) can still overtake them for the Big 12 tournament’s No. 2 seed with a victory. With a sellout crowd plugged in for senior night festivities, the atmosphere projects to be raucous.
“Tough environment,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm.
West Virginia anticipates the return of second-leading scorer Esa Ahmad (11.7 points, 4.1 rebounds), the sophomore forward who sat out the past three games with a lower-back strain. Coach Bob Huggins tested Ahmad’s stamina during this week’s practices.
“Every time somebody would sub for him I’d say ‘Leave him in,” because I wanted to see if he could go,” Huggins said. “He got through it. He wasn’t in the best of shape but he got through it, and he didn’t cramp or have spasms, which is the most important thing.”
The Mountaineers will honor five seniors, including four regulars — forward Nathan Adrian (10.1 points, 6.0 rebounds), guards Tarik Phillip (9.4 points, 3.0 assists ) and Teyvon Myers (6.3 points) and center Brandon Watkins (5.0 points, 3.1 rebounds).
Though not a senior, West Virginia point guard Jevon Carter (12.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists) has emerged as the team’s floor leader. Along with reaching 1,000 points in his last game, Carter paces the Big 12 in steals, a category in which the Mountaineers lead the nation.
West Virginia tops the country in forced turnovers and ranks third in the league in field-goal percentage defense. It held Iowa State to 39-percent shooting in the first matchup. Corrective measures, Prohm said, involve not being rattled by WVU’s defense.
“Taking open 3s and open layups, not contested 3s and contested layups,” he said. “And if we don’t have it, be tough enough mentally and physically to run offense.”
Still in the running for Big 12 player of the year, Morris (16.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists) has plenty of firepower surrounding him. Guards Naz Mitrou-Long (15.8 points) and Matt Thomas (12.0 points) are 3-point snipers, while forward Deonte Burton (14.3 points, 6.4 rebounds) is a slasher with a dangerous mid-range game.
“We have to attack those guys,” Morris said. “We have to get them in foul trouble, and make free throws.”