Naz Long an unsung hero in Iowa State’s signature victory


Sophomore Naz Long was the top scorer with 26 points during the men’s basketball opener against UNC-Wilmington on Nov. 10, at Hilton Coliseum. Long went 8 for 11 from behind the arc.

Alex Halsted

He paused in the left corner before flashing to the top of the key off a pick. There was no hesitation when Naz Long took the handoff, he just set his feet and fired away.

“Threeeeeeee for Long!” the announcer at Hilton Coliseum yelled as Iowa State pushed ahead of No. 7 Michigan by five points with five minutes remaining Sunday.

In a game where the return of senior forward Melvin Ejim took center stage, Long quietly followed behind with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.

“I think he was the unsung hero from (Sunday’s) game,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg. “You get a little bit of a deficit and we ran a couple plays for him, which we don’t do a lot, and he rose to the occasion and stepped up and made huge shots.”

Iowa State (3-0) fell behind Michigan by eight points with 12:47 remaining when Hoiberg called a timeout. After a dunk by junior forward Dustin Hogue, Long found himself alone in the left corner on a fast break and waved his hand, calling for the ball.

His shot sailed through the net, drawing the Cyclones within three of the top-10 Wolverines in a nationally televised game. Long’s 3-pointer with five minutes remaining helped the Cyclones pull away to an eventual 77-70 win.

The ball found Long again minutes later, and again in the left corner.

“And then he treated his best Tyrus (McGee) impression,” Hoiberg said jokingly following Sunday’s win. “He missed the basket by six feet.”

Or as close as he could get to McGee.

“After making that first shot I felt good and I just saw an open shot,” Long said. “And then I just came off the screen, and I promise you — you know how people yell out ‘Kobe!’ — in my head I swear I said ‘McGee!’ and then I fell to the ground.

“I said ‘I hope anybody didn’t see that.’ But obviously the whole world did. There’s not going to be another Tyrus, I’m telling you from my own experience, that shot is tough.”

Long is as close as anyone might come to McGee this season for Iowa State.

The sophomore guard has gone 13-of-20 on 3-pointers through the Cyclones’ first three games, a 65 percent clip beyond the arc.

McGee went 96-of-207 from 3-point range last season for the Cyclones while leading the nation in 3-point percentage at 46.4 percent. Iowa State lost the players who made 278 of its school-record 348 3-pointers last season.

So Long worked during the off-season to replace them.

“I figured if we’re losing all the 3s that we shot last year, where could I find a place to get in and get involved?” Long said. “It’s definitely shooting. I feel like being able to knock down shots is a place anybody can find themselves in.”

With the return of Ejim, who scored 22 points to go with nine rebounds in his season debut against Michigan, there is uncertainty what Long’s role will be moving forward. He had moved into the starting lineup while Ejim missed time with a hyperextended left knee.

Whether Long becomes the sixth man or finds himself in the starting lineup, he may have another way to impersonate McGee. 

“I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal, but I want to keep (my shooting percentage) above 50 (percent),” Long said. “I just want to aim high and keep shooting the ball hopefully like I am hopefully the whole year and just see where it takes me.”