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NCAA Tournament Recap: Iowa State Downs Arkansas-Little Rock to Qualify for Sweet Sixteen

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IT'S SO SWEET TO BE IN THE SWEET SIXTEEN.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State is in the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three years after defeating UALR 78-61 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

IT'S TIME TO PARTY IN CYCLONE NATION!

The first half was the Georges Niang show. The versatile senior forward tallied 17 points in the game's first 20 minutes on 7-11 shooting from the field. UALR had no answer for Niang, who did damage from the block and from 3-point range, where he hit all three of his triples. The crafty Wooden Award candidate utilized his arsenal of ball fakes and post moves to slice and dice through Little Rock's lauded defense.

The true difference maker in the first half, however, was the fantastic perimeter defense the Cyclones played against the Trojans. Josh Hagins, UALR's senior guard who had 31 points and hit the incredible 3-pointer from the logo to lift the Trojans into overtime against Purdue, was held to just 2 points by the defensive combo of Monte Morris and Hallice Cooke.

16 of Little Rock's 28 points came from their starting forwards. Roger Woods and Lis Shoshi both tallied 8 points on 3-4 shooting from the floor to pace UALR prior to halftime. They took advantage of Jameel McKay sitting on the bench for most of the period after he picked up his second foul with 14:41 left.

Just before the halfway point, Iowa State went on a 10-0 run behind eight straight points from Niang and another bucket from Matt Thomas. The score heading into the locker room was 40-28 in favor of the Cyclones.

ISU didn't let up to start the second half. They extended the lead to 20 points after two Niang free throws with 13:02 remaining, but Little Rock strung together a few baskets to keep it from getting too out of hand. At the under-12 media timeout, the score was 55-38.

UALR proceeded to score the next five points to cut the margin to 13, but Niang nailed a turnaround, step-back jumper from 10 feet in front of the rim to make the score 57-42. Morris then swiped a pass and finished a layup in transition to force a Warrior timeout with 7:53 left in the game.

Following the timeout, Thomas drained a 3-pointer to get the lead back to 20 points. Teams traded baskets after that and Iowa State started to get into their late game clock-draining offense. Little Rock began to use their full court press and the Cyclones looked a bit shaky at times. Hagins hit a bomb from long range with 4:47 left to make it a 14 point game, then Niang hit a runner in the lane, and Hagins drilled another 3-pointer immediately after that. The game stood at 65-52 at the final media timeout.

The 13 point deficit was the same that UALR came back from against Purdue on Thursday, so they'd been in the same situation before. However, Matt Thomas lived up to his "Iceman" nickname and hit a huge triple immediately out of the timeout for Iowa State. Little Rock then hit a two pointer, but Thomas found Nader on the left wing for another 3-pointer to keep the lead.

More clutch plays on offense allowed Iowa State to seal the deal and the final buzzer sounded with the Cyclones achieving sweet victory, 78-61.

Niang put the team on his back for the second consecutive game, scoring 28 points total on 11-18 shooting from the floor. Thomas was the only other ISU starter in double figures, tallying 16 points thanks to four 3-pointers. Morris and Thomas led the team in assists with 4 each and McKay hauled in 10 rebounds.

For notable team stats, one only has to look at Iowa State turning the ball over just 8 times all game. Shooting 56.6% overall will help, too.

ISU will take on the winner of the Butler-Virginia game that's currently being played on TBS. At time of publish, Butler leads Virginia 25-23 at halftime. Stay tuned to find out when and who the Cyclones will play next week in Chicago, and make sure you buy your tickets soon!