Sometimes the most obvious story line just plays itself out.
Wisconsin natives Monte Morris (19 points, 8 assists) and Deonte Burton (14 points, 8 rebounds) did indeed have a resounding homecoming, as the seniors led Iowa State past Nevada in Milwaukee.
The game got away from the Wolf Pack early. A Morris three at the 8:25 mark in the first half capped a 10-2 run that gave the Cyclones a 23-14 lead. The lead would grow to 13 at the half, as Iowa State’s defense held Nevada to just 30.0 percent from the field. This included a 1-for-4 performance from First-Team All-MWC guard Marcus Marshall.
The Cyclones came into the game undefeated when leading at the half, and that streak looked to be in jeopardy.
Jordan Caroline (20 points, 8 rebounds) and Cameron Oliver (22 points, 7 rebounds) helped draw Nevada within 55-51 midway through the second half. With Morris stuck to the bench with three fouls after the under-12 media timeout, the stars seemed aligned for another Wolf Pack comeback.
But a 7-0 Iowa State run reinstated the Cyclones’ separation. This was punctuated by by a three from Matt Thomas (13 points) as Morris continued to watch from the sideline.
Nevada still would not go away.
The Wolf Pack pulled to within 71-66 at the under-four media timeout, after a prayer three from Marshall (16 points) and an emphatic dunk from Oliver. But Morris would control the game down the stretch and close it out at the free throw line, preventing Nevada’s fourth comeback win of the year after trailing by double digits at the half.
For Nevada, what seemed to be an advantage on the glass never materialized. The Cyclones won the rebounding battle 38 to 28.
This was the second consecutive year that a one-bid MWC failed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. The loss also snapped a nine-game Nevada winning streak, which began on Feb. 15.
But despite the loss, the season was an unmitigated success for the Wolf Pack. The program won its first regular season conference title since 2012, and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007 under Mark Fox.
The team will now enter an offseason of uncertainty.
Eric Musselman will likely be a candidate for several power five openings, including - reportedly - Cal. Oliver also has another NBA draft decision to make, as the sophomore was ranked 46th in Draft Express’ latest mock draft.