With one 14-seed having already won on Friday (Mercer), it’s understandable that East Region No. 14 North Carolina Central would have designs on doing the same against No. 3 Iowa State. However the high-powered Cyclones proved to be too much for the MEAC champions, with all five starters reaching double figures in Iowa State’s 93-75 victory.
However for as well as the Cyclones played offensively, the win came at a significant cost as Niang revealed after the game that he broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
Niang, who left the game with about five minutes remaining, led the way with 24 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists and Melvin Ejim added 17 points and eight rebounds. As a team Iowa State shot 63.6% from the field and 9-for-17 from three, with 21 of their 35 made field goals being assisted.
The loss of Niang will have a major impact on the Cyclones’ hopes of reaching the Final Four, given his ability as a scorer, rebounder and distributor. Over his last five games the sophomore forward averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, shooting 47.2% from the field. It’s extremely difficult to replace a player of Niang’s caliber, but Iowa State will need to find a way to do so with one day to prepare for No. 6 North Carolina.
Without Niang even more will be required of Ejim and DeAndre Kane against the Tar Heels, and the role players will have to step up as well. Dustin Hogue and Monte Morris added 15 points apiece against North Carolina Central, and they’ll need to be just as productive Sunday.
For Iowa State this is a horrible case of déjà vu, with this being the second consecutive season in which they’ve lost a player to injury during the NCAA tournament. Last season it was Chris Babb, and this time around it’s Niang. Considered to be a team capable of reaching the Final Four after winning the Big 12 tournament title last weekend, Iowa State’s road to AT&T Stadium becomes far tougher to navigate as a result of Niang’s injury.