The final eulogy for this team had been written. By all accounts, Iowa State was dead to rights, both coming into the game and especially down eight with just under four minutes left. But just as they've done all year, these Iowa State Cyclones found a way and now they're onto the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 after they downed North Carolina, 85-83.
Without Georges Niang in the line up, who suffered a foot injury on Friday night, Iowa State turned to seniors DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim to lead the way and they came up huge. Kane provided the winning basket, driving to the hoop and hitting a shot off the glass with just 1.6 seconds left.
Without Niang, though, the entire roster stepped up and earned this victory. North Carolina may have had more height and was more athletic and certainly had better depth, but they didn't have the intangible heart that this collective Cyclone team showed.
Five different Cyclones scored in double figures, led by Kane's 24 points. Ejim had 19, Dustin Hogue 14, Monte Morris 13 and Naz Long was his usual clutch self, hitting two game-tying threes down the stretch en route to 12 big points off the bench. Neither Daniel Edozie nor Percy Gibson scored, but Edozie did pull down four rebounds in the first start of his Iowa State career.
- Have to start with Kane. This man is earning himself a paycheck with the way he's played. On a court full of guys with NBA aspirations, Kane was unquestionably the best player on the floor. He tried to do a little too much at times, but years from now, we will refer to this game as "the Kane game". Kane finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, including this beauty of a bounce pass to Melvin Ejim. Having watched at least a portion of every single game of this tournament thus far, I can say without bias that Kane turned in the top performance to date.
- I mean, the clutchness of Naz Long is almost apocryphal at this point. Nobody can be this clutch, can they?
- Ejim shook off a quiet first half by doing grown man's work in the second stanza. He did a little bit of everything while racking up those 19 points. You might almost say his offensive game was "Niang-ish" at times. Between Ejim and Hogue, who attacked the basket with relentless fury, Iowa State managed to do just enough in the paint to open up things outside.
- Speaking of outside shooting, remember earlier in the year when we all declared that this team couldn't shoot? Yeah...about that. Iowa State hit 12-26 from deep and of late, has been just as dangerous when shooting the three as the last two Iowa State teams.
- Monte Morris got off to a great start shooting the ball, but struggled to finish for most of the middle portion of the game, but he hit an enormous three-pointer with just under three minutes left to bring the Cyclones to within two. I freaking love Morris' game.
- Well, we have to talk about the ending, right? Above all else, the officials made the right call to end the game, but you still have to wonder if North Carolina's Nate Britt may have done something different had the clock operator started the clock at the correct time. Would he have gotten off a shot? Would he have called timeout sooner? We'll never know.
The Cyclones will now travel to Madison Square Garden in New York City to take on 7th-seeded Connecticut, who knocked off the 2nd seed, Villanova, on Saturday night. Iowa State knocked off Connecticut in the
first round second round of the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Life without Niang won't be getting any easier, but Fred Hoiberg and crew will now at least have a few days to game plan and prepare for how they'll attack the Huskies.
We'll have more coverage of this game and the upcoming battle against UConn in the coming the week, but for the time being, enjoy it Cyclone fans. This is effing awesome.
Keep on dancing, Fred (even if your kids make fun of you for it).
My dad might have the worst dance moves of all time.— Jack Hoiberg (@JackHoiberg) March 24, 2014