The national analysts were wrong this time. Iowa State avoided being upset today by the Iona Gaels in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and will advance to play Arkansas Little Rock on Saturday after coming away with a 94-81 victory.
The Gaels scored the first five points of the game (causing all Cyclone fans' hearts to start beating a little faster), but then Iowa State went on a 11-0 run behind 3-pointers from Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader and Georges Niang to go along with an alley-oop in transition from Monte Morris to Nader. The run prompted Iona head coach Tim Cluess to call a timeout and attempt to regroup.
However, the Cyclones scored five more points on a classic Niang drive into the lane and lob to Jameel McKay for a slam and Niang's second long ball of the game. The first media timeout finally came with 15:07 left in the first half and Iowa State led 16-7.
The ISU offense kept humming over the next stanza. Thomas made yet another 3-pointer within a 10-6 Iowa State run that extended their lead to 26-13 at the second media timeout.
Once the Cyclones got out to their largest lead yet (15 points), Iona's best player, A.J. English, started to heat up. When he started to sense the Gaels falling behind, he pulled up in transition and canned a 25-foot 3-pointer to cut the lead to 12 points.
The offenses for both teams couldn't get much to go during the middle part of the first half. The final media timeout of the half saw ISU holding a 37-27 lead. After starting the game in a zone/match-up zone, the Gaels switching to man-to-man on occasion is what slowed down Iowa State on offense, coupled with Nader sitting on the bench with two fouls. To close out the half, Iowa State scored eight points to Iona's six to go into the break with a 45-33 lead.
To begin the second period, both teams came out firing on offense. With Nader back in the game, the Cyclones looked better moving the ball on offense, but they also turned the ball over a couple times and Iona took advantage by scoring a few buckets in transition.
Despite the somewhat sloppy start to the half, Iowa State increased the lead to their largest of the game at 70-52 with just under 13 minutes remaining. However, Iona would come back behind the play of English and big man Jordan Washington.
Cyclone fans started to sweat when an English 3-pointer cut the lead to single digits at 79-70 with five minutes remaining. Niang would proceed to answer with a bank shot in the middle of the lane, but English responded with a scoop shot off the glass of his own.
The closest Iona got was following two free throws from English that put the score at 83-76, however that's when things went south for the Gaels. On an inbound pass, Iowa State called timeout to avoid a five second call and English was caught saying something profane to the ISU bench, which caused him to get called for a technical foul. After the technical from English, the Cyclones closed the game by outscoring Iona 11-5. That was all she wrote, and Iowa State advanced to the second round with a 94-81 victory.
Georges Niang led Iowa State by scoring 28 points and hauling in 6 rebounds. Niang started the game just 3-12 from the field in the first half, but hit 8-11 shots in the second period to help the Cyclones close out the victory. The rest of Iowa State's starters chipped in double digit scoring efforts as well, with Monte Morris (20 points), Abdel Nader (19), Matt Thomas (14) and Jameel McKay (11) proving ISU doesn't need no stinkin' bench! Deonte Burton scored the only two bench points for the Cyclones with a grand total of two free throws.
In Morris assist watch, the junior had 8 dimes with only 1 turnover in a classic Man-Man performance. Overall, the Cyclones shot 50% from the field and only turned the ball over 10 times, which contributed heavily to the win today.
You can view the entire box score here.
It's unknown when the Cyclones will play next, but we know it'll be Saturday against UALR. In the meantime, please join Jameel McKay and dance in celebration of today's victory:
BREAKING: we have a early favorite for the Big Dance's Dance of the Year. pic.twitter.com/y5E0EyunNZ— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 17, 2016