KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just when it seemed the Sprint Center had reached max volume, Deonte Burton slammed home an alley-oop and the Iowa State roar strengthened.
The No. 23 Cyclones, emboldened by Burton’s huge second half, were racing toward an 80-74 win in the Big 12 tournament championship, relegating No. 11 West Virginia to runner-up status again.
“We came in with a win-it-or-not attitude so I don’t think we got o much out of it,” senior Nathan Adrian said.
Adrian had his difficulties defending Burton’s array of drives and step-back jumpers. The forward made 7-of-11 and both 3-point tries, scoring 14 of his 16 points after halftime when Iowa State (23-10) sealed its third tournament title in four years.
MVP point guard Monte Morris, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds, has enjoyed all three. This one, however, became validation for second-year coach Steve Prohm, who has overcome some inevitable blowback from replacing the ultra-popular Fred Hoiberg.
“Getting a chance to win for Coach Prohm is big-time,” Morris said. “That guy had so much adversity on his shoulders and everybody was giving him a hard time when we would lose games. But he came to work every day and started to turn things around.
“Fred had a great run here, but everybody knows Fred probably won’t come back.”
West Virginia (26-8) couldn’t come back from a 54-42 deficit after Burton sank a midrange jumper. When the gap briefly tightened up to five points, Iowa State went on a 5-of-6 shooting tear capped by Burton’s fast break dunk off a feed from Naz Mitrou-Long.
By then it was apparent the Mountaineers — with too many turnovers (13) and too few rebounds (minus-4) — couldn’t replicate their two regular-season wins over the Cyclones.
“We beat a really good team tonight,” Prohm said. “They provided us a lot of matchup issues and our toughness and our grit had to be at a high level.”
Jevon Carter scored 18 to lead four players in double figures for West Virginia, which shot 51 percent and lost a day after beating Kansas State with 28-percent shooting.
Though Iowa State didn’t display its normal 3-point barrage, it made 26-of-40 shots inside the arc.
“We turned ’em loose. Fast-break points were 15-4,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “They’re good. They’ve got a bunch of guys that can handle the ball and a bunch of guys that can shoot the ball.
“I think everybody says it’s hard to play against us with one day’s prep, but I think it’s really hard to play against them with one day prep as well.”
Esa Ahmad had 10 points and five assists along with five turnovers, while Elijah Macon finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Daxter Miles scored 10 also.
From the foul line, West Virginia made only 8-of-17, including four straight misses when trying to make up ground late. That was a bad showing even by their own standards of a team that sits eighth in the league at 67 percent.
“It’s ridiculous, and you know we’ve had games where we shot in the 80s,” Huggins said.
The Mountaineers won both regular-season meetings — 85-72 in Ames and 87-76 on Senior Night in Morgantown — but trailed for the final 25 minutes Saturday.
Darrell Bowie and Iowa State’s reserves made hay by scoring 18 points during a 20-6 run. That seven-minute stretch — in which Bowie had 10 points to double his per-game average — surged the Cyclones ahead 28-22.
“We let dudes hurt us that shouldn’t hurt us,” said Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip.
That stretch from the backups allowed Morris to rest up for a blistering first-half finish.
He split a double-team to make a jumper before adding a 16-foot fadeaway over tight defense from Carter. Then, six seconds before the half, Morris launched a straight-on 23-footer to put the Cyclones up 35-29.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the country and he hit some tough shots tonight,” Carter said. “I feel like I did a good job on him, but he just hit some tough shots.”
Carter and Phillip represented WVU on the all-tournament squad, which included Burton and Matt Thomas of the Cyclones.
“Hilton South” yet again
Nearly 19,000 fans made for a raucous environment at Sprint Center. Though WVU sold more tickets than previous years, the Iowa State crowd proved overwhelming.
“Our fan base is amazing,” Prohm said. “I’ve been blown away every single night regardless of who we play we have 14,380 that fill Hilton Coliseum for Citadel, for Cincinnati or for Kansas. It’s the same group with the same energy.
“Then you come down here tonight, and I don’t know how much the Sprint Center holds, it was probably nine-tenths red, and that’s amazing. It’s a special fan base. You just look around and put on the TV. It’s just not like that everywhere, and that’s why this is a special job.”