ISU men fight to victory, move to Big 12 title game


Sophomore forward Georges Niang presses a towel to the cut above his eye during the second half of the game against Kansas in the Big 12 Championship semifinals March 14 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Niang went back to the locker room and got five stitches.

Alex Halsted

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Georges Niang felt the warm sensation rush down his face, and suddenly a warm, wet drip fell to his hand.

The sophomore forward eventually rose to his feet with a bloodied towel over his right eye, pumped his fist and exited toward the locker room at the Sprint Center.

Long after the game, Niang sat at his locker with five stitches above his eye — a result of the charge he took with 1:23 to play.

The charge solidified a seven-point lead, which helped Iowa State secure a 94-83 victory against top-seeded Kansas and a trip to the Big 12 championship game for the first time since 2000.

“The game’s never closed until the buzzer goes off, but that was definitely a big play,” said junior forward Dustin Hogue. “Him stepping up and stopping that drive, that was definitely a turning point in the game. I’m pretty sure he’d do it again if he knew the injury he’d get to help save the game.”

PHOTO: Check out our photo gallery of Iowa State’s 94-83 win, including shots of Georges Niang and the cut over head right eye.

Kansas and Iowa State went back and forth — like a prized fight — in March 14’s Big 12 Championship semifinal game. Each team matched the other, blow for blow and run for run, until Niang flew to the floor and the Cyclones sealed the game with free throws down the stretch.

Iowa State jumped ahead by as many as nine points in the first seven minutes of the game before Kansas answered with a 16-0 run to take the lead.

Midway through the Jayhawks’ run, after Monte Morris was called for a foul, ISU coach Fred Hoiberg — who wrote on the team’s locker room white board before the game, ‘No Ts’ — was assessed a technical when he shouted at an official.

“When you see someone like Coach do that, you have no choice but to get your emotions up,” said sophomore guard Naz Long. “He’s willing to sacrifice getting damn near kicked out of the Sprint Center for us. It meant a lot.”

After Kansas finished its run, Iowa State eventually went on a 14-6 run to take a one-point lead before Kansas went to the break ahead by two.

“Coach preaches, ‘How are you going to act when adversity hits you? Are you going to give up? Are you going to point the finger? Are you going to point the finger at yourself? How are you going to act?’” Niang said. “He asks us that question all the time, and I feel like we came here for a reason.

“We didn’t want to go down without a fight, so we just kept fighting, clawing, pulling.”

When senior guard DeAndre Kane, who went 5-of-6 from 3-point range, stepped up and hit a 3 from the top less than two minutes into the second half, he pushed Iowa State ahead by three. The Cyclones never trailed again and fended off each subsequent attempt by Kansas to make a late run, leading by as many as 12.

“The big thing is we kept our composure,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our intensity and energy out of the gate in the second half was incredible, and it gave us a lead and we were able to create some separation and hold them off at the end.”

The key was Niang, who after going 4-of-12 with 11 points in the first half, scored 14 points in the second half on 7-of-10 shooting from the field.

Niang scored eight-straight points for the Cyclones during a stretch late in the game, and his bloodied face and stitches summed up the night’s long fight with Iowa State on top.

“When Georges gets going, our team is at a whole new level,” Hogue said. “He made some tough shots, and that’s what he’s been doing all year. He’s one of the backbones to our team and if we keep getting him the ball and letting him create, it opens up everything for the rest of us.”

While Niang’s stitches forced him to miss the on-court celebration March 14, he and Iowa State will have another shot to do so with a win in the Big 12 championship game at 8 p.m. March 15 against Baylor.

“Here we are at the Big 12 tournament and you’re able to compete for a championship,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a great opportunity tomorrow to do something not many Iowa State teams have done.”