---- — The second the misguided question left my mouth, I wanted to take it back.
So, Georges, do you think you have any chance vs. Ohio State?
“I can’t believe you asked that,” he sighed.
Georges Niang didn’t go from a pudgy kid from Methuen to an NCAA tourney hero without believing in himself.
And after the freshman carried 10th-seeded Iowa State past 7th-seeded Notre Dame in their Friday night opener, he wholeheartedly believes the Cyclones can take down Ohio State in the Round of 32.
Don’t bother bringing up that the Buckeyes are the second seed in the region, are favored by seven points, and are playing in their backyard this afternoon (Dayton Arena, 12:15 p.m. on CBS).
“I’ve been the underdog my whole life,” he said while getting ready for practice yesterday afternoon. “If they are predicted to win, so be it.”
Being the star (game-high 19 points) of an NCAA win over Notre Dame has exposed Niang to a whole new level of fame.
“Everybody in America is watching,” he said. “I’m getting feedback from everybody.”
In this age of social media, it sure feels that way.
“Oh, man, I haven’t been able to respond. There have been so many (tweets and text messages),” he said. “The love is definitely appreciated. We got back at 1:30 a.m. I had 84 text messages.”
One was from last year’s ISU All-American Royce White.
Jack Cooley made the mistake of comparing Iowa State to lowly DePaul. Perhaps he was just pointing out both were known for their speed, but ISU interpreted it as a putdown, whether he meant it or not.
The first-team All-Big East forward ate those words. Niang and the Cyclones took it to Cooley and the towering but lumbering Irish frontcourt early and often in the 76-58 romp.
“That definitely motivated us,” said the 6-7, 245-pound freshman, who was cheered on Friday in Dayton by his mother, Alison Niang, and his uncle, Methuen native Ed Champy. “That was locker room material. I’m surprised that came out of his mouth. We didn’t want to be compared to (11-21) DePaul, no disrespect to DePaul.”
Niang generally lets his game do the talking, but he couldn’t resist.
“Obviously, I was letting him know,” said the former Tilton (N.H.) School star, who scored seven straight points to let the Cyclones blow the game open (44-31 to 51-31).
Niang has had to quiet the critics for years. But he still has to pinch himself over how far he has come.
“It’s really cool. I’m just a humble person,” he explained. “It’s amazing going from Michael Gorman and Rick Gorman’s couch to playing here! I’ve always had big dreams and big aspirations. I always dream big.”
Teaching Cooley a lesson or two was enjoyable, but he was equally satisfied to get the upper hand on his former AAU teammates. Pat Connaughton from St. John’s Prep and prep school rival Zach Auguste from Marlboro and New Hampton School play for the Fighting Irish.
“It’s great to get that first win, especially from my Mass. buddies,” said the first-team Big 12 All-Rookie team selection. “It’s good to get bragging rights for the summer pickup games.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET