A reason to smile: Naz Long steps up again for Iowa State


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Sophomore Naz Long, left, and freshman Monte Morris converse after Long made a three point shot during Iowa State’s 85-83 win over North Carolina on March 23 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX. Long and Morris combined made seven three point shots.

Alex Halsted

SAN ANTONIO — Naz Long sat on his stool, Iowa State trailing by five points with just more than three minutes remaining in the game with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, when Fred Hoiberg caught his attention.

“Look at me and smile,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to win this game.”

Long smiled and trotted back onto the court. With 1:32 remaining in a tie game, the sophomore guard lost North Carolina’s Leslie McDonald, who slipped past to hit a go-ahead 3-pointer.

“I’ve got to answer with something,” Long said he told himself.

With nearly 50 seconds to play, Long stood in front of the ISU bench, caught a pass from DeAndre Kane on the left wing, rose and fired away. The ball sailed through the net for an 81-all tie, just as it has for Long time and time again during his sophomore season.

Kane eventually lifted Iowa State to its fourth-ever Sweet 16 with a layup in the waning seconds for an 85-83 win against the Tar Heels.

“It’s just the moment,” Long said afterward. “It’s everything I dreamed up, it’s everything I’ve been playing basketball for since I was a little kid. It’s the lights.”

Long wasn’t all smiles all night. Sitting in the locker room at halftime after going 1-of-4 beyond the arc in the first half, he sat on his stool, down on himself. Georges Niang, out for the season with a broken right foot sustained in Iowa State’s NCAA tournament opener, stopped over.

“Keep shooting, Naz, you’re our best shooter on the team,” Niang told him. “You can do this. I believe in you.”

That was the same message Niang had for the team the night before in his hotel room in downtown San Antonio, where he called his teammates for a meeting. He told the team it could still win without him.

When the Cyclones fell behind by eight points with 5:26 to play, and when it looked as if the Tar Heels might pull away, Long hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five. North Carolina again pulled ahead by eight with 4:23 remaining, and moments later, Long again hit a 3-pointer to keep the game manageable.

“I feel a big shot coming from you,” Niang told Long from the bench. 

Then, Long stood on the left wing with the game on the line and knocked down the shot. Another big shot from the sophomore that surprised nobody on the team.

“Well, lets see. One, against Oklahoma State on the road. Two, Oklahoma State at home. Three, today. I’m sure I’m missing a couple,” Hoiberg said, counting Long’s big shots this season. “He’s been our guy. No fear with that kid.”

Long went 3-of-4 behind the arc in the second half, finishing with 12 points and hitting the shots in the second half that Niang told him he would.

“He has the ultimate confidence,” Niang said of his roommate. “When you have the ultimate confidence and Coach instills confidence in you, it makes it easy to do what he does.

“He’s just a confident guy. He’s Mr. Clutch.”

After he danced with Niang and his teammates on the court, Long sat at his locker. His smile was back.

“You just have to believe in yourself,” Long said. “You’ve got to be confident. I instilled that in myself at the beginning of the year. I’ll never lose that.”