By Rob Gray
AMES — Georges Niang felt out of place and out of sync.
The unharmonious moment of truth for the Iowa State forward came after a dominant 99-70 win over Auburn 10 days ago that pushed the No. 17 Cyclones’ record to 6-0.
Niang shook his head as he shuffled off the Hilton Coliseum floor.
He’d scored four points before fouling out. He played just 17 minutes. He had three rebounds, three assists and three turnovers — and shot 2-for-8 from the floor.
In short, the 6-7 sophomore wasn’t himself, so he embarked on a roots-based mission of rediscovery.
And it started before sunrise.
“After the Auburn game, he was in the gym at 6 a.m. the next day,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team (7-0) faces No. 23 Iowa (10-1) at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Hilton Coliseum. “Then he was in at noon — we had an off day, and then he was in again at 6 (p.m.). So he got himself in the gym three times in that off day.”
Suddenly, vibrancy returned.
He felt reinvigorated and it showed in Saturday’s comeback 91-82 overtime win over Northern Iowa.
Niang scored a season-high 22 points while compiling a career-high four steals and three blocked shots before again fouling out.
So he’s officially back — and just in time to give the Cy-Hawk rivalry a second go.
“I feel like it was just me getting back to the old me,” Niang said. “I felt like I was a little stagnant before. I feel like when I’m in the gym is when I’m the most confident and I felt like I needed to get back to that happy place, or whatever you’d like to call it.”
He found Carver-Hawkeye Arena last season to be a decidedly unhappy place.
Niang scored 13 points in the first half, helping build a 36-35 lead.
But he went scoreless in the second half as Iowa pulled away for an 80-71 win.
“Just thinking back to last year and the emotions I had walking off Carver-Hawkeye and just how aggravated I was with the game — it just brings a ton of thoughts to my head on just how bad we want this game,” Niang said. “I’ve waited a whole year for this to come around again, for them to come to our place and to feel our hostile crowd and our environment.”
When Niang’s at his best, much of the offense flows through him.
That became obvious earlier this season, when Niang’s 19 points — including six of the final eight down the stretch — and eight assists keyed a momentous 90-88 win at BYU.
He couldn’t reprise that closing role Saturday against the Panthers, but his set-up work proved vitally important.
“He kept us within striking distance,” Hoiberg said. “Without Georges’ production in the first half, it would have been, instead of sort-of ugly, it would have been really ugly.”
Friday, could bring anything, but for Niang the hope rests in redemption — pretty or not.
“I’ve been counting down the days to this game,” he said.
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