Fearless Niang hits clincher for Cyclones

Three of his career-high 27 come at most important time

Published: February 1 2014 | 7:14 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:00 am in

AMES — No internal clock ticked in Georges Niang’s head.

Iowa State’s versatile sophomore forward also didn’t pay much mind to the one sitting atop the basket late in Saturday’s tense Big 12 matchup with No. 25 Oklahoma — or, apparently, hear his coach tell him to stop.

“What was I thinking, huh?” Niang said with a shrug.

Win the game, that’s what.

Niang’s deep, but open 3-pointer after a near steal by the Sooners with 55 seconds left helped the No. 18 Cyclones cement a 81-75 triumph that played out before 14,384 fans at Hilton Coliseum.

So what if it came less than midway through the shot clock after Oklahoma had pulled within 73-70?

When you feel it, you feel it — and Niang spun and finished in rarified air most of the game, accumulating a career-high 27 points before fouling out 27 seconds after his key 3-pointer.

“I was giving him the stop sign and he wasn’t listening,” said Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team improved to 16-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play. “He just rose up with all kinds of confidence and knocked it down. It was obviously a huge shot.”

Maybe the shot.

“(It) created a margin that we couldn’t quite come back from,” Sooners Coach Lon Kruger said.

Niang’s offensive explosion served as one of many positive developments for ISU, which avenged an 87-82 loss three weeks ago at Norman.

Speaking of career highs, the Cyclones’ Melvin Ejim matched one with 16 rebounds. He also scored 22 points — one shy of tying a personal benchmark set in last year’s Big 12 tournament win over Oklahoma.

“I took it upon myself in the last couple games to just really reestablish myself on the glass and really get after it again, help our team however I can,” said Ejim, who made all six of his free throws. “I tried to get every one that I could.”

The Sooners outscored ISU 22-2 in second-chance points in the first meeting. The Cyclones held an 8-4 advantage in that category Saturday — despite Oklahoma’s building an overall 46-33 rebounding edge.

“You can’t just keep your head down and feel sorry for yourself when they get them,” Ejim said of giving up offensive boards. “You’ve got to get another stop. You’ve got to get another rebound and we were able to do that a little bit.”

Freshman guard Monte Morris made his first start and scored 12 points, including two free throws with 26 seconds left that truly sealed the win.

“He was really solid,” Hoiberg said.

So was freshman Matt Thomas, who went 3 of 5 from 3-point range and sprinkled in four rebounds, three assists and two steals.

He’s 9 of his last 17 from beyond the arc after going 2 of 14 in the previous four games.

“Right now you can see the difference,” Hoiberg said. “He’s just rising up without even thinking. ... That’s what you want out of your shooters, to go out and play without a conscience, almost.”

That brings us back to Niang, who is shooting 52 percent from long range in the past four games.

That kind of proficiency makes every open look a good one — whether a stop sign’s wielded or not.

“No fear,” Hoiberg said. “No fear at all.”

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