Just days after announcing the departure of head coach Chris Beard to UNLV, Little Rock didn’t go outside of the program to hire the next leader of its basketball program.
Thursday morning the school introduced Wes Flanigan as its new head coach, promoting Flanigan from the associate head coaching position he held under Beard. Flanigan, who is a Little Rock native, was an assistant at the Sun Belt school from 2004-08 before moving on to assistant coaching stints at UAB, Nebraska and Mississippi State.
Little Rock has five seniors to replace from this season’s team, which won 30 games and beat No. 5 seed Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Among those players moving on are guard Josh Hagins, who scored 31 points in that double-overtime victory, and forward Roger Woods.
Guard Marcus Johnson Jr., who averaged 12.5 points per game this season, is due to be the Trojans’ leading returning scorer in 2016-17.
With Midwest No. 12 Little Rock flying high following their double overtime win over No. 5 Purdue, the Trojans appeared to pose a serious threat to No. 4 Iowa State Saturday evening. With a red-hot guard in Josh Hagins and one of the best defenses in the country, maybe Chris Beard’s team had enough to slow down the Cyclones.
However it became quite clear early that Little Rock had no answer for senior forward Georges Niang, and as the game rolled on his teammates got going as well. Iowa State executed very well on both ends of the floor, resulting in a comfortable 78-61 victory in Denver. Next up for Iowa State is their second Sweet 16 appearance in three years, and they’ll play either No. 1 Virginia or No. 9 Butler next week in Chicago.
One of the best players in the country, Niang scored a game-high 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting from the field while also grabbing six rebounds. With his ability to not only score inside and out but also get the ball to open teammates, Niang was a very tough matchup for the Trojans to deal with. Doubling down into the post when he was there didn’t work because of the passing ability, and Niang’s being able to go out onto the perimeter and make plays posed a problem for Little Rock as well.
Iowa State turned the ball over just four times on the day against a Little Rock team that feasted off of turnovers in their win over Purdue Thursday, with Monté Morris being one reason why. The junior point guard didn’t commit a single turnover Saturday, and as a team the Cyclones finished with 15 assists. The passing and player movement resulted in 11 three-pointers and 56.6 percent shooting from the field.
Morris was also a factor defensively, as he served as the primary defender on Hagins, who finished with eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after lighting up Purdue for 31 on Thursday.
Iowa State had some issues in Big 12 play, with the combination of a lack of depth and the competition they were facing on a nightly basis being the biggest reasons why. But this group displayed a greater commitment to the defensive end in Denver this weekend, and the offense is still potent. Viewed as a Final Four contender during the preseason, the Cyclones have begun to look like the team many expected to see during conference play.