EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

March 16, 2014

NCAA-bound: Niang's heart symbolizes Iowa State's toughness

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The hugs and waves to the crowd started with 10 seconds remaining, and no sooner had the buzzer sounded did Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg shake an approving fist at the Sprint Center crowd filled with Cyclones partisans.

It was an uphill struggle most of the night but Iowa State finally prevailed, topping Baylor, 74-65, in a memorable Big 12 championship game in front of a packed and partisan Cyclones crowd at the Sprint Center on Saturday night.

Iowa State trailed by eight with a little over 10 minutes remaining, but the Cyclones made 24 of their final 35 shots — after missing their first 13 attempts of the game.

Iowa State hit the big shots down the stretch and captured its second Big 12 tourney title. The trophy will go alongside the one captured by the 2000 team, led by Marcus Fizer.

Both teams are headed to the NCAA Tournament, along with five others from the Big 12. The 68-team bracket will be announced at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Iowa State had made it all the way back on Naz Long’s corner three pointer with 5:46 remaining. Then Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, who had been quiet most of the evening, popped in a three from the top of the key that gave the Cyclones a 53-50 edge.

The next few moments became a slugfest, with both teams trading huge shots and plays. Isaiah Austin scored five straight for Baylor, then Georges Niang of Methuen answered inside to give Iowa State a 59-58 lead.

The next two shots decided the game.

Baylor’s Brady Heslip hit a three, his fourth of the game, to restore the Bears’ lead, and quiet the crowd.

But Long immediately returned the favor with 2:40 to play, and that gave Iowa State the boost it needed to reach the finish line. Iowa State didn’t trail again.

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