SAN ANTONIO — Iowa State’s Naz Long and Georges Niang share the same apartment.
Increasingly, they’re sharing the same monicker, too: Closer.
Long hit four 3-pointers in Sunday’s stirring 85-83 third-round NCAA tournament win over North Carolina, including two during a desperately needed 8-0 run that tied the game 81-81 with 50 seconds left.
The mere mention of his name brought a smile from Niang — who’s out for the season with a broken foot and became head cheerleader Sunday on the Cyclones’ bench.
It also prompted a few freshly-minted monickers, too.
“He’s a big-time shot maker,” said Niang, who scored 24 points in Friday’s blowout of North Carolina Central. “He gets the name, “Mr. Clutch.’ … I’m at a loss for words.”
Speechless is something Niang usually isn’t, but he eventually became that way because of Long and every other ISU player who helped overcome the late eight-point deficit and send the team to the Sweet 16 in New York.
“We just kept putting our head down and kept going to battle, and you know what, it came through for us,” said Niang, who faces a minimum six weeks of recovery. “Coach keeps preaching next play, next play and those guys really went out there and did it.”
Long’s been doing it a lot lately — and has hit 15 of his last 27 3-point attempts.
“He’s been our guy,” Cyclone Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Again, no fear — even when he went through a shooting slump (early in the conference season). He stayed with it, got in the gym and got up extra shots.”
Now he’s a closer.
Or Mr. Clutch.
But mostly Niang’s “brother,” teammate and roommate.
“Without him we’re not here,” Long said. “So we got it done against the Tar Heels. It’s a blessing.”
BEAR IN THE ROOM: Twelve minutes from the tip-off of Baylor’s win over Creighton, Bears coach Scott Drew ducked into the Cyclones’ jubilant locker room and shouted.
“Congrats, Iowa State!” Drew exclaimed. “We were cheering for you guys!”
MONTROSS SALUTES HOIBERG: One guy was done with radio. The other was finally getting to his postgame show. The first: Two-time North Carolina all-American Eric Montross and analyst for the Tar Heels Sports Radio Network. The second: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, who Montross got to know during the 1998 NBA lockout.
“He was playing with the (Indiana) Pacers and we practiced together for the entire time in Indianapolis,” said Montross, who helped lead the Heels to the 1993 NCAA title. “I was with the (Detroit) Pistons at the time. I’ve always had a great level of respect for Fred and how he played.”
But how about how he coached Sunday against the team that ended his ISU playing career in the 1995 NCAA tournament?“Of course, losses are bitter, but losses are a part of athletics,” Montross said. “Only one winner walks off the field or walks off the court. If you’ve got to go down, you’d rather go down to a good guy.”