Cyclones successfully battle lack of depth with Niang in foul trouble

Georges Niang, senior forward, dribbles past Zach Smith, an opponent from Texas Tech on Jan. 6 at Hilton Coliseum. ISU won 76-69.

Ryan Young

While Iowa State (12-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) left Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday night with a 76-69 win against Texas Tech (11-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12), the Cyclones didn’t win as convincingly as they may have hoped.

After leading by 18 points in the first half, Texas Tech was able to storm back in the second half, turning Wednesday’s contest into a game that could’ve went either way.

Yes, the Cyclones did end up finding a way to win the game, pulling away in the final two minutes. However, the game allowed one of the biggest questions surrounding this year’s ISU basketball team to resurface: lack of depth.

After Naz Mitrou-Long’s decision to sit out due to hip problems, ISU coach Steve Prohm has been playing just seven guys per game. Sometimes, that will work without issue. But last night, that strategy could have turned south.

Senior Georges Niang picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of play Wednesday, forcing him to sit on the bench for most of the first half. When he returned to the court later in the half, the forward picked up another foul, which sent him back to the sideline.

“In a personal manner, obviously that’s frustrating for me,” Niang said. “To see the way how the guys responded and really went out there and held their own, I’m really happy with how we played.”

All in all, the preseason All-American played just under four minutes in the first half.

He didn’t, however, just sulk on the end of the bench.

“When I watched the TV copy, he was engaged and cheering and up supporting his guys,” Prohm said. “That’s all you want. You’re going to be a little frustrated because he has three fouls. He wants to be out there. I thought he was engaged and into the game, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Niang returned in the second half, still with limited minutes. However, it didn’t take him long to find his groove.

Niang finished the game with 14 points, all of which came in the second half, and six rebounds, something he credits all to his teammates.

“I’m just trying to make more plays for this team,” Niang said. “The guys on this team put me in a great situation to have a solid second half and to really make plays, so that’s what I try to go out there to do.”

And while he didn’t produce like Prohm had hoped in the first half, he said he was more than impressed with how Niang came out in the second half.

“He’s just a good player,” Prohm said. “He has a good feel for the game, and he understands when we need him. He probably just got a little frustrated in the first half just not playing. But he responded in the second half and was able to put up good numbers in the second half and we were able to win. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

And even though they nearly fell into a situation Wednesday where lack of depth could have been an issue, the Cyclones battled through it. Niang said the team’s ability to push through tough situations is something that needs to continue through conference play. 

“I think it speaks volumes to our character,” Niang said. “[That] in a few games you’ve seen this year that we’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep pushing and eventually were going to pull through. I think that’s the thing about us is that we keep our head down to the ground and keep on pushing.”