SAN ANTONIO — There was no celebrating in the Iowa State locker room.
The third-seeded Cyclones clobbered No. 14 seed North Carolina Central, 93-75, in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday night at the AT&T Center. But the win was overshadowed by the fact that sophomore forward Georges Niang, who scored a game-high 24 points, suffered a season-ending foot injury in the second half.
"It's a complete loss for us and definitely a low blow," said DeAndre Kane, who scored 14 points in the victory. "He's one of the best forwards in the game right now. For us, guys just have to be ready to play. Guys have to step up, other guys on the bench that have been itching for minutes."
Niang exited the game with 7:34 remaining in the second half after landing awkwardly on his foot. He didn't return and X-rays revealed a fracture that will keep him out for around six weeks, according to team trainer Vic Miller.
"I think it was when [NC Central guard Jeremy] Ingram drove by and I think it was when Dustin Hogue was taking a charge," said Niang, who averaged 16.5 points per game this year and landed on the Big 12 All-Tournament team. "I stepped on one of their two feet. I rolled it. I don't remember exactly how it looked because I was watching the play, but it happens. I'm still excited for my team that we got the win."
Iowa State (27-7, 17-8) will take the floor without Niang for the first time this year when it faces No. 6 seed North Carolina (24-9, 13-5) on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. The Tar Heels squeaked out a narrow 79-77 win over No. 11 seed and Big East tournament champ Providence on Friday and will be looking to take advantage of Niang's absence.
"We're playing as well as any team in the country," head coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Adversity hit us tonight and it us hard. … He's a guy that creates so many mismatches out there on the floor. He shoots the ball with such rhythm. We'll miss him but we'll put that behind us."
Even after Miller told reporters that Niang was out for the rest of the tournament and Iowa State announced the same news, Niang didn't admit he had a season-ending injury for several minutes.
"You have a guy that really wants to play, really wants to do it. Sometimes when you have that, they hear kind of what they want to hear," Miller said. "It's a broken bone. Time will tell. There's no magic powder we have to make the healing process go faster. Just conservative care."
As for the actual contest, both Iowa State and N.C. Central (24-9, 13-5) started hot. The Eagles hit seven of their first 10 field goal attempts and the Cyclones shot 62.1 percent from the floor in the first half, during which Hogue scored 11 of his 15 points. Monté Morris also chipped in 15 points.
But Iowa State was the only team that stayed hot throughout the game. The Cyclones never led by more than eight points in the first half but, as the Eagles cooled down in the second half, they kept firing away. Iowa State managed to top its numbers from the opening 20 minutes, shooting 65.4 percent from the field and knocking down seven of 12 three-pointers in the second half.
"They're playing hard. We've got a great swagger," Hoiberg said. "We went out and did a great job of moving the ball and sharing it with each other. Twenty-one assists, eight turnovers. We just really played a complete basketball game."
The Cyclones ended the Eagles' 20-game winning streak, previously the fourth-longest in the country, but Niang's injury put a damper on any good feelings they had about the triumph.
"That's my brother, man," said Naz Long, who may fill in for Niang in the starting lineup Sunday. "I'm going to do whatever I can. He's a 6-foot-7 guy. I'm going to lay my body out there, man. I'm going to do things that he would do, not go out of my role but fill in his shoes. Those are some big shoes to fill."