In a tournament where anything goes, no team is safe from the wrath of March Madness. After No. 3 Duke fell earlier Friday to No. 14 Mercer, the door was wide open for another double-digit seed to pull off an upset.
With that in mind, No. 14 North Carolina Central took to the court with an upset in mind but fell just short against No. 3 Iowa State in a 93-75 loss that sent the Cyclones into the round of 32 against No. 6 North Carolina.
The Cyclones were paced by sophomore forward Georges Niang, who tallied 24 points with six rebounds. Niang's shooting came from both inside the paint and outside the arch as he showed off his versatile ability throughout the contest.
Unfortunately for the Cyclones, Niang would miss the final seven minutes of the contest with an ankle injury after coming down awkwardly on a rebound. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune gave a report on the sophomore during the game:
"Sore foot" is the official diagnosis for Georges Niang, per ISU spokesperson.— Travis Hines (@TravisHines21) March 22, 2014
This certainly isn't the first time that Niang has been injured in recent weeks. The forward was struck in the head during the Big 12 tournament and came down with a huge gash on his head, as Sporting News pointed out last week:
Though N.C. Central head coach LeVelle Moton came into the matchup with hopes of pulling off the unthinkable by downing the second No. 3 seed in the same day, he also came in with a heavy heart.
As Moton prepared for the biggest game in the program's history, his one-year-old son was in the hospital in critical condition after he was burned on the face by spilled coffee. The 39-year-old coach spoke about the difficult situation, per Stephen Schramm of the Fayetteville Observer:
It makes it hard to enjoy. You work your entire life to get to this moment, and the one thing I learned is that success is nothing without someone that you love to share it with.
I walk into an incredible hotel that looks like an apartment and I'm in there by myself, and it just doesn't feel the same without my son and my daughter and my wife who sacrifice so much to allow me to become a better person and better basketball coach.
While Niang orchestrated the effort for Iowa State, Jeremy Ingram put on a spectacular performance of his own in the losing effort. The senior scored 28 points in the final game of his illustrious career with the Eagles.
N.C. Central looked up to the task early on in the matchup despite its coach's adversity and was even tied at 24 midway through the first half. But Iowa State's ability on both sides of the floor suffocated the Eagles into submission.
Iowa State's official Twitter account put the great defensive performance during the first half in perspective:
Iowa State with five blocks in the first half. Season high is seven.— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneMBB) March 22, 2014
Even with the Cyclones putting it all together in the first half, the Eagles were able to cut through the deficit somewhat and went into the half down by just six points at 45-39.
As the Eagles' Twitter account notes, the team hasn't been down much this season but has the confidence to stage a comeback:
Iowa State picked up where it left off early in the second half and jumped on top of N.C. Central with a huge offensive run. While the Cyclones would eventually take a lead by over 20 points, it was an earlier shot by Niang that convinced Luke DeCock of the News & Observer that the game was over:
Niang with the 3-pointer to put Iowa State up 11 and that might be the dagger. 57-46 with 15:15 to play. Eagles up against it now.— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) March 22, 2014
The Cyclones also put together a highlight-reel transition play to increase the lead to a nearly insurmountable one for the Eagles, per NCAA March Madness:
Can Iowa State make the Sweet 16?
Iowa State finished the game at 64 percent shooting in the game and will now face another hot team in North Carolina. The Tar Heels have a hot-shooting guard in Marcus Paige to go along with James Michael McAdoo, who has been a huge presence inside all season.
With the status of Niang uncertain coming out of the tournament opener for the Cyclones, it's difficult to see how they will get past the Heels without him. But if Iowa State can continue its outstanding defense, it might stand a shot to limit Paige and Carolina's offense.
After getting one win in the tournament, the Cyclones could be on a path to the Sweet 16 and maybe much more.
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