While some might say last night’s 80-76 loss to a talented Purdue team wasn’t how this run was supposed to end; the end result was somehow perfectly fitting.
Unless you were tuning in to watch Iowa State for the first time, you’d seen last night’s script before: An under-manned and undersized Cyclone team taking on a much bigger and more formidable foe, a slow start and large halftime deficit, lapses of poor play followed by stretches of simply breath-taking basketball, and cardinal and gold clad fans waiting with bated breath for the inevitable arena-shaking run to put the ‘Clones right back in the game.
In many ways, last night’s game was a microcosm for not only this entire season, but for the careers of Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, Monte Morris, and Deonte Burton. And I believe there are three words that describe all of the above:
Unpredictable. Unprecedented. Unforgettable.
They say the only thing in life we can predict is unpredictability, and that certainly rang true for this program and these seniors.
There were incredible games, both good and bad, that fit the definition of unpredictable. There were incredible wins (beating Kansas in Phog Allen) followed by inexplicable losses (basically any time we played Texas Tech), impressive streaks (10 game winning streak over Oklahoma State) and dumbfounding skids (dropping 5 in a row to Baylor), and postseason tournament runs paired with heartbreaking NCAA tournament exits.
The lives of these seniors were also unpredictable, each in their own way. A mid-season hip surgery forced Nazareth Mitrou-Long to choose between hanging up his shoes for good or returning for a second senior season. Tough family and life circumstances led to an up and down first few years for a highly touted player with even higher expectations, but those challenges helped Matt Thomas grow from an unpredictable player to one of the best shooters in Iowa State history.
The most unpredictable thing life can throw at you, the loss of a parent, led to Deonte Burton searching for a new beginning in Ames. That fresh start wasn’t perfect, and neither was this young man’s game. But his growth from a feast/famine talent to a consistent match-up nightmare under Steve Prohm was absolutely incredible to watch. And Monte Morris, a kid who most thought wouldn’t be much more than a solid player, rose to heights achieved by few to ever don a Cyclone uniform.
And on top of all that, these players endured losing their coach, a beloved Iowa State icon, smack dab in the middle of their Cyclone careers.
To call the last four years of Iowa State basketball unprecedented is probably a gross understatement. Over the past four seasons, the Cyclones’ short list of accomplishments looks something like this: Two Sweet 16’s, three Big 12 Tournament Championships, four NCAA Tournament appearances, and 100 total wins.
Putting aside all these accomplishments, and there are plenty more than what is mentioned here, maybe the most unprecedented part about this run is the heights that this program has been taken to. Iowa State has been in the Top 25 for the better part of three consecutive seasons, hosted College Gameday, and garnered the respect of coaches, analysts, and fans across the country. While Iowa State may not be considered a blue blood (yet), the Cyclones are now known as a big-time basketball program. Considering where this program was 10 years ago, that may be the most unprecedented thing of all.
The past four years represent one of the most unforgettable runs in Iowa State athletics history. This stretch has resulted in a laundry list of incredible games and unforgettable moments. If there ever were a “Cyclone Louvre”, it could undoubtedly be filled with work from these past four seasons.
Who will ever forget Matt Thomas, the human flamethrower, singlehandedly keeping Iowa State in games and stemming runs from the opposition? Or the “Cowboy Killer” Nazareth Mitrou-Long, who delivered some of the most clutch three pointers in Iowa State history? Deonte Burton will be impossible to forget, as he is wanted in at least four states for murdering opposing players/rims/people within a 5-mile radius with his thunderous dunks. And the accomplishments of Monte Morris, a guy who broke school records for wins, assists, and steals, will likely have his number hanging from the rafters to remind all who enter Hilton Coliseum of just how special he was.
Lastly, while the success this program has known over the past four seasons will be etched in the record books, the impact of these players on the Iowa State community will be felt in the hearts of Cyclone fans for years to come. These seniors formed a special bond with the Ames community and fans of all ages. They were terrific representatives of Iowa State University, and always strived to show the world what it means to be a Cyclone.
When you think of these players, and about the end of this truly remarkable era of Cyclone basketball, don’t be afraid to look back on last night’s ballgame with fondness, not disappointment. Though the outcome was not what any of us wanted, that game represented the essence of Iowa State’s seniors and the heights they lifted this program to.
That game, and this incredible run, can be summed up in three words.
Unpredictable. Unprecedented. Unforgettable.
Well, it just so happens there are also three words that can be used to describe players like Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, Deonte Burton, and Monte Morris.
Loyal. Forever. True.