By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State freshman forward Georges Niang ran the floor, rose up and did the unthinkable.
He dunked the basketball.
First one in college?
“Yeah, we could say that,” the covertly explosive 6-7 Niang said sheepishly after Saturday’s 82-62 rout of Texas. “Much more to come.”
Niang — poised for his fourth career start in Wednesday's 8 p.m. matchup with new Big 12 rival West Virginia — is known for his smarts, not his hops.
And the current Big 12 rookie of the week is OK with that.
“Just being a student of the game, always looking to get better developed me as an offensive-minded player,” said Niang, who starred at the Tilton (N.H.) School alongside Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel.
The Cyclones (11-4, 1-1) will make sure the Mountaineers (9-7, 1-2) are forced to account for Niang all over the floor.
His teammates universally hail him as “crafty.”
So does his coach, Fred Hoiberg, who sprinkles in the word “efficient” to help describe Niang’s throwback style that often baffles opponents.
“I’m not surprised by anything Georges does,” Hoiberg said. “From going back to his recruitment, watching him play against (Kentucky freshman) Nerlens Noel in the open gyms when we were recruiting him, he could score over him. And I didn’t see that many people that had that ability to score over Nerlens. He’s showing it again — showing it now. And he’s going to keep getting better. He’s going to continue to add different things to his arsenal.”
The Crafty One’s bag of tricks already bulges.
Taller, slower players can’t stick with him away from the basket.
Shorter, more athletic players can’t handle his multitude of inside moves.
And that’s true in practice as well as games.
“Throughout the whole summer no one could really check him,” said ISU leading scorer Will Clyburn. “If you were small, he was just going right over you. If you were bigger, he was going around you. It was difficult.”
Kansas shot blocker extraordinaire Jeff Withey learned that last Monday.
Niang scored eight of his 13 points to start the game — with six coming on 3-pointers that Withey struggled to extend out on to defend.
“(Those) were on me,” Withey told reporters after the game.
The Jayhawks, with the help of a desperate banked 3-pointer that forced overtime, thwarted ISU’s strong upset bid, but Niang only got stronger.
The Longhorns came next and also found no answers.
Niang notched a career-high 18 points on just seven field goal attempts.
“He doesn’t do it with athleticism,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not real flashy. He just goes out there and plays efficient basketball. And that’s what you love about him.”
Clyburn saw something to love, he said, at this season’s first open gym.
So did point guard Korie Lucious, who’s benefitted from Niang’s space-creating game.
“Pick and pop opportunities are there, pick and roll opportunities,” said Lucious, who notched his fourth nine-assist game against Texas. “He stretches the floor for us, so whenever he’s in, it’s all good.”
And, as Niang said, expect more to come.“He still has work to do on his body and I think he’s be the first to tell you that, but his basketball IQ makes up for a lot of that,” Hoiberg said. “His craftiness around the basket and his ability to finish is unbelievable. His footwork is as good as I’ve seen for a player his age, so everything that he’s about makes up for some of the things that I talked about.”