Iowa State’s focus is ‘laser sharp’ after 94-81 win over Iona

Junior guard Monte Morris runs past Iona’s Ibn Muhammad at the NCAA Tournament on March 17. Morris had eight assists. ISU won 94-81.

Ryan Young

DENVER — Heading into the tunnel at the Pepsi Center after the game, the Cyclones had made sure of one thing: last year’s NCAA Tournament game against UAB was behind them.

No. 4 seed Iowa State (22-11) opened up this year’s NCAA tournament in similar fashion to last year’s. They were a high seed, playing a team that many thought could pull off a first round upset, and it was one of the first games of the tournament.

Yet the Cyclones didn’t let history repeat itself, as they beat No. 13 seed Iona (22-11) 94-81 Thursday afternoon.

“To win any game in the NCAA Tournament is awesome,” said senior Georges Niang, who finished with 28 points. “Obviously, we’re not happy to be here. We expect to win, and we’re going to give everybody our best shot.”

With Thursday’s win, the Cyclones will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and will play Arkansas Little Rock on Saturday.

ISU coach Steve Prohm said both he and the team could feel the pressure to get the first round win, especially after last season’s early exit from the tournament. But now that the first one is out of the way, there’s a different type of pressure looming over the Cyclones.

Yet it’s not something Prohm isn’t used to.

“Now you got the pressure to go to the Sweet 16,” Prohm said. “There’s a constant pressure in this business. But you want to be at jobs where there are pressures and expectations or really what are you coaching for and what are you playing for?”

The Cyclones jumped up to a 15-point lead early on Thursday, and seemed to be on their way to an easy win. They were hitting shots, shooting nearly 50 percent in the half, and didn’t have much trouble breaking down Iona’s defense.

Late in the second half, though, Iona proved why they had earned a bid to the big dance. The Gaels had fought their way back into the game, and the Cyclones couldn’t come up with enough defensive stops to put them away.

Late in the game, though, the Cyclones pulled a run together and outlasted Iona’s late run to seal the first round win.

“I thought we had a good start. We probably carried that through the rest of the game, except for the end,” said junior Matt Thomas. “We kind of let them back in. With a team like that, you can’t let that happen… But we’re all focused in here. We have a lot of veteran players in this locker room who have been here for it, and a lot of guys who know what winning in the NCAA Tournament is all about.”

Center Jameel McKay, who finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds, said that the biggest reason for the Cyclones’ success was their focus, something he said was its best in a long time.

“We have one bracket, and that’s the game of the day,” McKay said. “The next game, we have one bracket. That’s us versus the team that we play. We’re not looking ahead.

“Our focus right now is laser sharp. I don’t think we’ve ever been this focused, to be honest.”

And while they’ll take a moment to celebrate the win, it won’t be for long.

“[The goal is to] try to get to the sweet 16 now,” Prohm said. “You enjoy it now, but from a coach’s standpoint– I’m ecstatic, but I want more for these kids. Now we have to have a great preparation in the next day and a half, and get ready for the winner of this [next] game.”