(A followup column from me on Georges Niang's broken bone in his right foot will be found on the Hlog after 1 a.m., Saturday.)
SAN ANTONIO – It clearly didn’t escape Iowa State’s attention that No. 3-seed Duke got dumped by 14th-seeded Mercer in Friday’s NCAA tournament play.
The third-seeded Cyclones took 14th-seed North Carolina Central as seriously as if the Eagles were Kansas Jayhawks, and with good reason. NCCU showed a lot of first-half offensive efficiency with an attack that was disciplined, yet aggressive.
However, the Cyclones had way too much offense of their own in their East Region second-round game, and stormed into the third round for the third-straight year with a 93-75 triumph.
On Thursday, Eagles Coach LeVelle Moton called ISU the best offensive team in the country. Whether he is right is arguable, but Moton had to have been even more convinced after this game. The Cyclones’ five starters all had 10 points or more with 12:30 still to play.
With 7:34 left and Iowa State ahead 78-58, the Cyclones were shooting 64.6 percent from the field. Around then, the Eagles might have been wishing they were playing a 1-seed or 2-seed instead.
Iowa State advances to a Sunday game against sixth-seed North Carolina, which staved off 11th-seed Providence in the game preceding ISU’s in AT&T Center, 79-77.
They now go from facing North Carolina Central to North Carolina deep in the heart of Texas. As able as the Eagles were, and they did arrive in San Antone with a 20-game winning streak, they aren’t the Tar Heels.
So Sunday will feature a former Iowa “Mr. Basketball” trying to help knock Iowa State out of the tourney.
Marcus Paige added a slab of luster to his already-brilliant sophomore season in helping North Carolina to victory in one of the most-exciting games of the tournament, and the season.
The point guard from Linn-Mar High had been just 1-of-7 from 3-point distance until he swished a three with 3:01 left to pull the Tar Heels into a 74-74 tie with the Big East’s Friars.
But the Heels were again down by three after Providence point guard Bryce Cotton scored the last two of his 36 points in an absolutely fabulous performance that also included eight assists.
Paige answered with another 3-pointer with 1:06 left for a 77-77 deadlock. The Friars didn’t score again, while North Carolina got two free throws from James Michael McAdoo in the final 3.5 seconds for the winning margin.
Were it just a battle of point guards, Cotton would have advanced to the next round. Against anyone in the tourney so far, for that matter, and maybe the San Antonio Spurs’ beloved Tony Parker this night.
But Paige was money at the best time. He was calm with the ball as he directed the Carolina offense after it got the ball back with :37 left in a tie game.
He had a team-high 19 points and four assists in 36 minutes. He will be the only Iowan in either starting lineup Sunday when the sixth-seeded Tar Heels challenge Iowa State.
“Marcus and James Michael are great leaders, too,” North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said after the win. “They’re leaders by how well they played. They’re leaders by how intelligent they are. They’re leaders how unselfish they are.”
Then-ISU coach Greg McDermott and his successor, Fred Hoiberg, recruited Paige when he was a prep. But now he will be no friend to the Cyclones in what figures to be a juicy matchup.