Niang Leads Cyclones Into Sweet 16March 19, 2016
The senior forward's dominant performance helped Iowa State roll over Little Rock 78-61 on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Yeah, he's a pro," Little Rock coach Chris Beard said. "He's going to play on TNT. I think he'll play in the NBA."
His college career will last at least another week.
"This is sweet," said Niang, revealing that teammate Naz Long razzed him before the game, suggesting he "didn't earn the last Sweet 16 you were in" after breaking his right foot in the opening round his sophomore season.
"I made sure to tell him I earned this one," said Niang, who scored 28 points for the second time in three nights and pulled down six defensive rebounds while helping keep Trojans guard Josh Hagins from another second-half scoring outburst like he had against Purdue.
In 2014, Niang watched his teammates edge North Carolina without him in the second round before losing to UConn. He'll be on the court next weekend in Chicago when the Cyclones (23-11) face top-seeded Virginia in the Midwest Regional semifinals. The Cavaliers advanced with a 77-69 victory over Butler.
"It's going to be awesome," Niang said. "I'm really excited. This is what you work for. Being a little kid, just dreaming about playing in situations like this, or playing in moments like this."
Niang, the winningest player (97) in Cyclones history and Iowa State's only two-time All-American, was simply too much for the 12th-seeded Trojans (30-5) of the Sun Belt.
For the second straight game, Hagins had just two points at halftime.
Unlike last time, when he went off for 29 more in a double-overtime win against Purdue, Hagins added just six after the break.
Most of the credit goes to Monte Morris, who Hagins said is "not a slacker."
"Even when I got by him, there was a 6-9 guy waiting on me," Hagins said. "They made me give it up. I couldn't get too many looks."
Led by Roger Woods' 19 points, the Trojans kept things close for much of the first half, and Kemy Osse's 3-pointer pulled Little Rock to 26-24.
Niang responded by doing all of the heavy work in a 10-0 spurt that helped the Cyclones grab control for good.
He sank a 3-pointer from the top of the circle, marking his 43rd consecutive game in double figures. Then he drove through the lane for a layup followed by another 3-pointer that barely fluttered the net.
Matt Thomas chipped in 16 points for Iowa State, which led 40-28 at halftime.
The Cyclones opened the second half on a 13-5 run that included a nifty drive and two free throws by Niang, who honed his hardwood skills going up against future 76ers big man Nerlens Noel during two years of high school and countless summer AAU practices.
Those skills have helped him turn around Iowa State's basketball program.
Beard said there were simply no weaknesses to exploit in the big man's game.
"I think he's a great ambassador for college basketball, too. He seems like a great guy. Good sportsmanship, the whole deal," Beard said. "I got a lot of respect for him. He's a super player. He's going to make some money next year."
Niang's presence prevented the Trojans from completing another big comeback like they did 48 hours earlier when they erased a 13-point deficit in the final 3 1/2 minutes to force overtime against the Boilermakers.
This time, Little Rock trailed 65-52 with 3:49 left — and Hagins had just hit his first 3-pointers sandwiched around a finger-roll bucket by Niang.
Once again, there was a buzz in the Pepsi Center during the timeout.
Purdue made the mistake of matching up with Little Rock's quick guards down the stretch, which was a strategy the Trojans welcomed.
The Cyclones stayed "big."
And Little Rock soon wilted.