Louisville, Ky. -- Georges Niang sat slumped over with his eyes locked on the locker room carpet and a green towel hanging over his head to shield his face. When he finally did speak, the voice that emerged was quiet and hurt.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. The offense had gone cold when Iowa State needed it most. The rebounds weren’t gathered when they were critical. The late game-tying shot attempt bounced off the rim to cement this pain.
“It’s tough to just sit here and have this be a reality,” Niang said softly, his head down. “I can’t tell you how terrible I feel for everyone in this program that supports this organization. I feel horrible.”
Iowa State’s fast start quickly faded against 14-seed UAB at the KFC Yum! Center, and the offense went with it. When UAB hit late crucial shots, the Cyclones watched a late game-tying attempt miss the mark en route to the NCAA tournament’s first upset that sends 3-seed Iowa State back to Ames with a stunning 60-59 loss.
This was an Iowa State team that arrived in Louisville on the heels of a five-game winning streak, which led it to a second consecutive Big 12 Championship in Kansas City. It was an Iowa State team that had made double-digit comebacks in five-straight games only to miss an opportunity to bury UAB.
“Shots just didn’t fall,” guard Monte Morris said. “We can’t think about the comebacks all the time. It’s going to run out sooner or later and tonight it ran out.”
Iowa State started hot, building an early 10-point lead by making four of its first seven shots and hitting a pair of free throws to go up 12-2 in the game’s first 4 minutes, 36 seconds. The chance to put the Blazers away fell by the wayside. During the remainder of the first half, Iowa State scored 16 points and went to the break trailing by three.
The Cyclones missed their opportunity to take advantage of a strong defensive effort early in the second half. When UAB went scoreless in the first 5 minutes, 40 seconds of the period, Iowa State went on only a 6-0 run to take a three-point lead.
“I thought we’d get a stop and we just couldn’t get that thing off the board to push it down the court to transition into our offense,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That’s tough when you get stops and can’t get it off the glass.”
UAB out-rebounded Iowa State, 52-37, and Iowa State went 24-of-65 from the field, finishing with its third-worst shooting percentage of the season. The Cyclones missed 10 of their final 11 shots, and Niang missed eight shots around the paint in the narrow loss.
“I put blame on myself down the stretch just not being able to make plays that I usually make,” said Niang, who finished with 11. “I felt like I could help them out and I didn’t do that. That makes me feel horrible.”
In the end, Naz Long’s late 3-point attempt bounced off the rim before being tipped in by Morris with 0.7 seconds remaining to draw within one. It was too little, too late. Iowa State’s scoring output was its lowest of the season.
“If I hit my shots before that we wouldn’t have been in the position we were in,” said Long, taking the blame himself. “I’m putting a lot of that on myself as a captain on this team, as a third-year guy, I can’t have performances like that in the tournament.”
So the team that arrived with so much momentum and so many expectations, fell short of advancing to the NCAA tournament’s first weekend.
“I’m shocked,” Morris said. “I don’t think it’s real. I’m still waiting to wake up. It’s tough with the high expectations you have for yourself and your teammates. That we came out and played like that is just straight pitiful.”
“This is as tough a loss as I’ve ever dealt with,” Hoiberg added.
“We have no one to blame but ourselves,” Long said. “This one burns, man. It burns.”
Across the room from his teammate, Niang sat on a chair situated in front of his locker. His head remained down as he spoke.
“A lot of hard work was put into this season and I feel like this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go,” Niang said before continuing and taking a deep breath. “That being said, we’re going to have to come back even harder next year.”