Iowa State was still basking in the glow of its second-round win over North Carolina Central on Friday night when the news came down: Georges Niang had a broken bone in his foot and was done for the year.
It was a tough pill for the Cyclones to swallow, because it would mean having to face a much tougher North Carolina team two days later without one of its more versatile players.
That was the initial reaction. After further introspection, the outlook shifted to this:
DeAndre Kane would just have to do a little bit more. If such a thing was possible.
The senior responded as expected on Sunday, knocking home the final two baskets to push ISU to an 85-83 win over North Carolina at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"He's been our Mariano Rivera," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters after the game. "He's been our closer all throughout this season."
For as electric as his moves to the basket are, Kane is so much more than just a scorer. He might just be the ultimate weapon left in this tournament, and a big reason why the Cyclones shouldn't consider their first Sweet 16 since 2000 to be the ceiling, even without Niang.
Besides his 24 points on Sunday, which came almost entirely around the rim or at the line, Kane also had 10 rebounds and seven assists. According to ESPN, that performance puts him in elite company in the NCAA tournament:
DeAndre Kane 24 pts,10 rbds, 7 assists (3rd to do that in Tournament game since 2000- Draymond Green and Dwyane Wade) pic.twitter.com/jJiQcUYbZ4— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Such a stat line isn't an anomaly for the 6'4" Kane. Despite being Iowa State's point guard and main ball-handler, he has seven double-doubles (only one of which included assists) this season. He's second on the team in scoring (16.9), third in rebounding (6.7) and first in assists (5.8).
During the Big 12 tournament last week, he became the first player in the last 15 years to record 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 600 assists in his career, per ESPN College BBall on Twitter.
Those are the kind of stat lines you'd expect in today's modern college game from the superstar freshmen, the one-and-done players who are around just long enough to improve their draft status. You know, guys like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins...both of whom happen to already be out of the tournament.
But with Kane, Iowa State has a senior, a fourth-year college player who's been through more than enough ups and downs in his career to make the rigors of a three-week tournament feel like a stroll in the park. A composed floor leader is big on its own; having one who's calm and collected and with loads of experience could end up being the tipping point for the Cyclones.
This is Kane's first season with ISU, having played the previous three years at Marshall. He put up similar numbers there, but run-ins with coaches and players (including claims made in a Sports Illustrated report by Luke Winn that Kane punched a teammate during a scrimmage) led to his dismissal.
That same article chronicled Hoiberg's willingness to give players a second chance, and his reputation for taking on transfers has become well-known. Kane was expected to make an impact, but no one knew he'd have this much influence on what's the best Cyclones team since the 2000 squad that reached the Elite Eight under Larry Eustachy.
It's fair to say Kane's presence helped push Melvin Ejim to his outstanding senior season, which earned him Big 12 Player of the Year honors, while the work with Niang proved instrumental to the sophomore forward's improvement.
Though a small bone in Niang's foot ended his year, his absence wasn't felt as much as expected against North Carolina because of Kane, who appears ready to push the Cyclones as far as he can in as many ways as possible.
Next stop: a matchup Friday in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden in New York City against Connecticut, which is led by a similarly diverse senior leader in Shabazz Napier.