AMES, IOWA — With six minutes, 23 seconds sitting on the clock above the baskets at Hilton Coliseum, a crowd of 14,272 fell to pin-dropping silence as Georges Niang held the area around his right knee, squirming in pain.
For as loud as Hilton Coliseum had gotten just one minute and 47 seconds of game action earlier, when fans raucously cheered new football coach Matt Campbell onto the court, it now fell oddly silent.
The decibel meter undoubtedly hit low figures. Teammates rushed back toward Niang’s direction. The team doctor hurried from the bench.
“Man, he’s a senior,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm thought. “Obviously we need him but you never want a senior to get hurt for a lot of reasons.”
Niang, after a few minutes writhing in pain, would eventually be helped from the court to the locker room. In the end, Iowa State would breathe a sigh of relief when Niang was diagnosed with a right thigh contusion.
By the 1:41 mark of the first half, Niang, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds, would spin to the basket for a layup in an eventual 84-64 victory against North Dakota State.
“I just got a Charley horse,” Niang said afterward. “I probably overreacted a little, but I was seriously in pain.”
“He’s soft,” teammate Naz Mitrou-Long joked. “No, but if he gets hurt, that kind of reminded me of the tournament two years back. I went up to him and he said, ‘It’s a Charley horse, it’s a Charley horse.’”
“Hilton got so quiet,” said Jameel McKay, who scored 15 points and had a career-high 19 rebounds. “I’ve never heard it get that quiet. I’m just happy he’s all right. He’s the heart and soul of our team and he’s the best player in the country so we need him every night.”
Iowa State’s eventual win would take a late effort to overcome an off night from beyond the arc. The Cyclones fell behind NDSU by three without Niang before closing the first half on a 9-0 run to take a four-point lead to the break despite eight turnovers and 3-of-14 from 3.
That 3-point shooting would improve slightly in the second half (4-of-13), but with a small-ball lineup late, the Cyclones finished the game on a 32-14 run in the last 12 minutes to secure the 20-point victory.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Prohm said. “It was a good win. North Dakota State, everybody knows has a very good program, they’ve been part of the NCAA tournament the last couple years and they’re a team that makes you defend."
Iowa State’s win, in the end, would carry more significance. From the fear of a season-ending injury to a sigh of relief.
“The big thing out of tonight,” Prohm said, “is we won and Georges is healthy.”