KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State’s Georges Niang walked slowly, a crimson-blotted towel pressed above his right eye.
One minute and 23 seconds — plus a gaping wound — stood between the No. 16 Cyclones and a monumental Big 12 Championship semifinal win over 10th-ranked Kansas.
It, like Niang, was all-but-sewn up as he trudged to the locker room, pumping his fist to a standing ovation.
“I scared you guys for a little bit, huh,” joked Niang, who scored 14 of his game-high 25 points after halftime and sealed the 94-83 triumph Friday by taking the injury-causing charge.
Niang simply starred, hitting seven of 10 field goal attempts in the second half — a final 20 minutes in which the Cyclones (25-7) shot 68 percent.
He also dished out a team-high seven assists, but lost eight turnovers as ISU reached the title game for the first time since winning it in 2000.
“We’re probably lucky I was injured,” said Niang, who helped fourth-seeded ISU beat the top-seeded Jayhawks (24-9) for just the second time in the last 20 meetings. “I’d turned the ball over two times in a row, so I guess it was god-willing.”
Niang’s quick with a joke, but Friday’s performance made a serious Big 12 statement.
Yes, the Jayhawks were playing without 7-0 future NBA Lottery pick Joel Embiid, who is nursing a back injury.
But, no, this was no fluke.
“Anytime you can beat the No. 1 seed, that’s always good,” said ISU guard DeAndre Kane, who notched 20 points, six rebounds and six assists. “But they’re still a great team. … They still played us to the wire without one of their best players in Embiid. I think we just wanted it a bit more.”
The Cyclones — who play either Baylor to Texas in today’s 8 p.m. final — absorbed a 20-3 first-half Kansas run that led to a 36-26 disadvantage.
What helped fuel the surge?
A technical — of all things — on ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg, who’d been whistled for just one previously, in the 2012 NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky.
“I said a bad word,” Hoiberg said. “Did I deserve it? Probably.”
A 20-3 run from the Jayhawks is generally a hit that leaves teams of any caliber in a blue and red wake.
Not with Kane hitting 5 of 6 3-point attempts, including one that started the Cyclones’ journey back from a 10-point deficit to being down just two, at 48-46, at halftime.
“I think our intensity and energy in the second half was incredible,” Hoiberg said. “It gave us a lead and we were able to create some separation and hold them off at the end.”
Perry Ellis scored 30 points for Kansas, but just nine of them came in the second half.
The Jayhawks trailed by at least seven points for the final nine minutes of the game.
“We left too many straight line drives to the basket in the second half,” said Ellis, the villain against ISU in last season’s semifinals.
Those drives came from Kane.
Also, Melvin Ejim, who scored 19 points.
And Niang, who dropped in eight straight points in one late span, then stood up straight to take the brunt of Brannen Greene's charge with 1:23 remaining.
A successful drive and finish could have cut ISU’s lead to five.
Instead, Niang was left bleeding.
And, finally, smiling.“Do I look better now?” Niang said. “That’s what coach was telling me. I look a little better now.”