SAN ANTONIO – We don't know what we don't know. Who knows what gets said in team meetings, in practice sessions, in pre-game locker rooms. Knowledge at this time of the season is particularly wispy.
But here's what we do know: All that talk from Iowa State about players itching to play, about the players and coaches having each other's back, about being a band of brothers … that was validated and exemplified by a March Madness outcome that will resonate for years.
The No. 3 Cyclones, playing without their most valuable player (Georges Niang), broke through two years of first-weekend frustration to reach the East Regional semifinals. Iowa State (28-7) heads to Madison Square Garden after Sunday's 85-83 victory over No. 6 seed North Carolina (24-10).
"I just told him (before the game) we were going to try to get this one and pull this one out for him," said DeAndre Kane, who finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. "I know the emotions he was feeling and the things going through his head. We really wanted to get this one for him because without him we wouldn't be here. So this game was definitely dedicated to Georges."
Senior DeAndre Kane, who transferred to Iowa State so he could play in the NCAA Tournament, made sure the Cyclones are one of the 16 survivors. Isolated against North Carolina's J.P. Tokoto, Kane waited until the clock had ticked to single digits and then drove to the rim and banked in the game winner with 1.6 seconds remaining.
"I usually have one side of my (play) card with plays for DeAndre and a whole other side of my card with plays for Georges," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That whole back side of my play sheet was obviously thrown out the window today. When we need a basket, Georges is usually the guy we go to. He's been our Mariano Rivera. He's been our closer all throughout this season.
"You're not going to replace Georges Niang with one guy. You have to have a collective effort, and our guys certainly stepped up today to help fill that void."
Iowa State had been eliminated a victory shy of the Sweet 16 each of the last two seasons. Two years ago, eventual national champion Kentucky beat the Cyclones and last season Ohio State won a heart breaker on a last-second shot. For the first time since the 2000 team reached the Elite Eight, Iowa State is still alive.
"This is enormous to reach the Sweet 16," Hoiberg said. "To battle adversity, be down eight points with about six to go and find a way to get a win … at the last media timeout, I told 'em 'Everybody look at me and smile; we're gonna win this game.' We went out and found a way."
After Kane's basket, the officials had to huddle to check a timing issue. The clock had not started on time and North Carolina had attempted to call a timeout. The officials determined the clock had run out and the timeout had not been recognized. Game over.
Niang, sidelined by a broken bone in his right foot, didn't need his crutches to go through the hand shake line. As he moved through the back halls of the AT&T Center to the locker room, he was happily hip-hopping on his crutches.
"We've been facing adversity all year and I'm just so proud of these guys," Niang said. "People counted us out before the game, counted us out when we were down eight with five to play. Coach keeps preaching, 'Next play, next play.'
"I called the guys into my hotel room before the game and said, 'Guys, we can do this.' But it's not about me, it's about these guys. We're moving on and I'm excited for them. This was the madness right here, what March is all about."
Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, finished with 19 points. His heads-up outlet pass after a North Carolina turnover provided Kane with an easy layup that gave Iowa State an 83-81 lead with 27.9 seconds remaining. Ejim set a school record with his 125th start. Junior Daniel Edozie made his first start.
"We're an army and we lost a soldier, so we all had to find a way to to step up," who played 16 minutes and had four rebounds. "I went in there and gave it what I could to help contribute to the team and the win."
But it was Long, a valuable reserve all season, who fueled the comeback. Long had made cold-blooded 3-pointers to force overtime in both regular-season games with Oklahoma State. Against the Tar Heels, he tripled his effort.
With Iowa State trailing 72-64 with 5:26 remaining after North Carolina converted an offensive rebound, Long hit the first of three 3-pointers to revive an offense running on fumes. The third came with 50 seconds remaining and tied the game at 81-all.
"Naz is a big-time shot maker and he gets the name Mr. Clutch," Niang said.
"I'm thankful that my teammates just stuck with me," said Long, who missed four of his first five from behind the arc. "They kept finding me, and believing in me and telling me over in the timeouts and at halftime just keep shooting and they'll fall. It all comes as part of my role. I've got to knock down shots. "
A Kane basket off an Ejim assist was countered by two free throws by James Michael McAdoo (a 53.6 percent shooter from the line) with 16 seconds remaining. Iowa State had set up the final play and didn't need to call a timeout.
"There's no name for that play, it's give it to DeAndre and get the hell out of the way," Iowa State freshman point guard Monte' Morris said. "When I was second team and had to guard him in practice, when he wants to get to the rim, he gets to the rim."
Getting to the rim gets Iowa State to the Big Apple. The Cyclones will face No. 7 seed Connecticut in the East Regional semifinals Friday.
"We've been dealing with naysayers all season," said Dustin Hogue, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. "Once Georges got injured people didn't think that we had enough to pull out this win. This goes to show that we have depth and we have heart. With enough heart you can beat anybody."
Now we know.