The Iowa State Cyclones secured a spot in the 2014 NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 by storming back on Sunday against North Carolina en route to an 85-83 victory in the round of 32.
Senior DeAndre Kane showed the determination that characterized the Cyclones in the final five minutes, putting his head down and barreling to the hoop for the winning layup with mere seconds remaining.
CBS Sports Network's Wally Szczerbiak said what many were thinking about Kane's crunch-time prowess, as the Marshall transfer had a great all-around game with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists:
When it looked as though the East region's No. 6-seeded Tar Heels were taking control of the game down the stretch, the No. 3 Cyclones staged a furious rally to knot the game at 76 with two minutes remaining. That set the stage for a thrilling finale in what was the second straight shootout UNC was involved in.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, they couldn't pull through this time to continue advancing amid the chaos of March Madness. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports felt this contest lived up to the previous upset Kentucky pulled over undefeated Wichita State earlier on Sunday:
This Iowa State-UNC game is giving Kentucky-Wichita State a nice run for its money. Spectacular afternoon of basketball. Finally.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 23, 2014
This served as a big breakthrough for the Cyclones against the ACC as they prepare for the Connecticut Huskies in their first Sweet 16 since 2000, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Iowa State: headed to Round of 16 for 1st time since 2000, gets 1st win vs ACC in NCAA Tournament (1-4 all-time)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 23, 2014
Leslie McDonald drained a key three-pointer, and following exchanged twos thereafter, Iowa State's Naz Long drained his third shot from distance of the game to even the score at 81 apiece.
CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein noted how Long's emergence has been a key part of what makes the Cyclones successful:
An underrated part of Iowa State's success this season? The evolution of Naz Long as a Glue Guy. Has done a great job replacing Chris Babb.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 23, 2014
From there, Kane scored the Cyclones' final four points, and a wild sequence at the end didn't allow the Tar Heels to go for the tie or win. All five starters scored in double figures for UNC in defeat, headlined by dynamic guard Marcus Paige's team-high 19 points.
Star sophomore forward Georges Niang fractured his foot in the Cyclones' previous win over NC Central, and his absence was going to be tough to overcome as it was. Niang scored 16.7 points per game this season and was a key cog in Iowa State's explosive offense, so the team scored well considering his absence.
Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg was confident his squad would come out and compete, though he was hesitant to say whether it'd be good enough for a win.
"I believe in these guys," said Hoiberg, per The New York Times' Ben Shpigel. "I know we’ll come out and compete on Sunday. Is it going to be good enough? Who knows."
What a bold claim by Hoiberg, but for his players to back it up was even more impressive. Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman picked the Cyclones to win the national championship, and was certainly not giving up hope:
Bracket in shambles, but I still have my Final Four and national champion Iowa State. Got to love the 'Clones. Gutsy.— kbohls (@kbohls) March 23, 2014
When McAdoo and Kennedy Meeks (15 points, 13 rebounds) were pounding the Cyclones on the inside down the stretch, it seemed the Cyclones would fade out of the tourney. Instead, Hoiberg's faith was proven to be legitimate.
Robert Raiola pointed out how lucrative these NCAA tournament wins are for Hoiberg:
What kept the Cyclones within striking distance when they trailed by as many as eight in the second half was three-point shooting, where they finished 12-of-26 shooting from beyond the arc.
How much further will Iowa State go in the NCAA tournament?
While it would undoubtedly help to have Niang in the fold, the Cyclones' cause to continue advancing in the East was aided when Connecticut upset Villanova in the round of 32. The Huskies are a No. 7 seed and are playing well right now, but they don't have the offensive firepower Iowa State boasts.
If the Cyclones can hone in on stopping star UConn senior Shabazz Napier and capitalize on their rebounding advantage, there's a good chance they can move forward to the Elite Eight. Now that it has proven capable of beating quality competition without Niang, Iowa State can't be overlooked as a legitimate Final Four contender.