Cyclones find success with Niang’s efficient play

Georges Niang, No. 31, squares up to shoot while under pressure from two BYU players.  With the 83-62 Cyclone victory, Iowa State is 5-0 all-time against BYU.

Alex Halsted

Fred Hoiberg only needs one word to describe his freshman Georges Niang: “Efficient.”

Through the ISU men’s basketball team’s first 15 games of the season, the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per game.

Niang has made three starts for the Cyclones, including the team’s first two conference games this past week. In a road game against No. 6 Kansas last Wednesday, Niang scored the team’s first eight points and played a large role in an overtime loss.

Hoiberg, though, isn’t surprised by the 19-year-old’s quick success.

“I’m not surprised by anything Georges does,” Hoiberg said. “Going back to his recruitment watching him play against [Kentucky freshman] Nerlens Noel in open gyms when we were recruiting him, he could score over him. I didn’t see many people have that ability to score over Nerlens.”

Niang went to Tilton, a prep school in Tilton, N.H., where he played with Noel, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2012. Although undersized and lacking athleticism, Niang has found a way to succeed against bigger players.

It didn’t take Niang long to understand he wouldn’t beat collegiate players with athleticism.

“The first time someone in college blocked my shot,” Niang said with a laugh. “Maybe Melvin [Ejim].”

Hoiberg said Niang uses a high basketball IQ to make up for his lack of size and athleticism. That helped Niang find success against Kansas’ 7-foot center, Jeff Withey, last week.

In Iowa State’s first two conference games, Niang has acted as a neutralizer, being a big man with the ability to shoot from beyond the arc. He averaged 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in his first week of Big 12 action.

“Even though we’re undersized at times, Georges creates a lot of mismatches,” said point guard Korie Lucious. “Him starting at [center] is going to be difficult for any 6-9, 6-10 slow guy to hold Georges. He can shoot the ball from the outside; he can drive right past them.”

As Hoiberg likes to say, Niang has simply been efficient.

Nearly halfway through the season with 16 conference games remaining, Niang leads the team with a 52.5 shooting percentage. It took Niang only seven shots — along with eight free-throw attempts — to score a game-high 18 points Saturday against Texas.

So what’s the secret?

“He’s crafty,” said guard Will Clyburn. “Throughout the whole summer, no one could really check him. If you’re small he’d go right over you; if you’re bigger he’s going around you.”

It didn’t take the team long to realize Niang would contribute immediately.

“First open gym,” Clyburn said was when he knew.

Now the Big 12 is taking notice, too. After his first two games, Niang was named the Big 12 Rookie of the Week on Monday.

“For a freshman to come in and have an immediate impact is very difficult,” Hoiberg said. “You just don’t see it very often, especially at the high, major level.”

Hoiberg said the Cyclones are much better when Niang is on the court, but added the freshman still has work to do on his body and has a much higher ceiling.

“He’s going to keep getting better,” Hoiberg said. “He’s going to continue to add things to his arsenal.”