KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The admiration between Georges Niang and Buddy Hield emanates like that of the respect of one artist for another. And what a show the Big 12’s dynamic senior duo put on Thursday night at the Sprint Center.
Yet, when all was said and done, one of these two All-Americans had to lose, and so Niang sat hunched at his locker for the first time in his four-year career done in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” Niang said, stopping and then elaborating. “It stings. I think the worst part is being a senior. Like, this is it. It hasn’t really hit me yet, but when it does I’m sure I’ll sit there and have some emotional thoughts.”
Iowa State’s season isn’t over. The Cyclones will head to the NCAA tournament next week for a school-record fifth consecutive time and the goals this team often talked about in October are still within reach in March.
But this bunch, facing the grueling Big 12 road to a third consecutive championship here in Kansas City, had confidence it could knock off Oklahoma and the presumed National Player of the Year in Hield.
Hield had other plans.
Even on a night when he didn’t his 3s, a sign Iowa State would have unequivocally taken if given the option beforehand, Hield scored 39 points. Combined with Iowa State’s uncharacteristic 18 turnovers, of which Oklahoma scored 17 points off of, the Cyclones were sent packing with a 79-76 loss.
“Throughout the game they owned us. They broke us down,” said point guard Monte Morris, who struggled shooting while playing with a sore right shoulder. “We didn’t make it tough on Buddy. We let Buddy be comfortable. That’s the results. I feel like we didn’t play tough enough to win that game.”
The loss, though, didn’t come without grit.
The Cyclones managed to reach halftime trailing only by six despite going without Niang for the final seven minutes after he picked up his second foul and despite Hield scoring 18 points and seemingly matching every Iowa State basket. An at times stagnant Iowa State offense early in the second half couldn’t cut into that deficit, and the Sooners hung around a 10-point lead until finally building it to a game-high 14 points midway through the half.
Then it was the Georges Niang Show.
Trailing by 12 moments later, Niang scored 14 consecutive points for Iowa State. He hit 3s, midrange jumpers and finished his patent hook shots. When the near five-minute spurt finished, Iowa State still trailed by seven, ultimately unable to find the requisite stops to draw closer.
“That was really all Georges being who he is,” coach Steve Prohm said. “They wanted to get me downhill and really get out there and try to make plays for the guys. I felt like I did an OK job at that,” Niang added. “I honestly wish I could have been getting downhill and piercing the defense a little bit earlier.”
Iowa State did still have one final chance to complete the comeback that made last season’s Big 12 Championship possible, but that effort fell by the wayside with 78 seconds to play and Iowa State down four.
It was then that Niang found Abdel Nader open in the corner. His 3-pointer rolled around the rim and plopped out, beginning to seal Iowa State’s fate.
Buddy Hield 39, Georges Niang 31.
Oklahoma 79, Iowa State 76.
“I got going early, and after that, the last ten minutes, he just went off for a tear,” Hield said. “He’s hard to guard. He’s the worst matchup you want to defend in college basketball. He can handle the ball, post up and shoot it. I love his game. He’s a tough matchup. I wish him the best in the tournament.”
“I have nothing but respect for him,” Niang said of Hield. “It’s been great competing against a guy that, really, we’ve come from the same place. Unknown and really just worked to be at the top.”
That four-year showdown has come to an end.
Now, Iowa State hopes it can make one final push with Niang.
“The one thing everybody remembers from last year is how it ended,” Prohm said. “We’ve got a chance to do some really good things.”
Monte Morris on the loss, his shoulder...