Iowa State used an overpowering second half against North Carolina Central to avoid the kind of upset that has tripped up other highly seeded teams in this NCAA tournament.
Then came the bad news for the Cyclones — or, really, the bad break.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said Georges Niang, who scored 24 points in the 93-75 victory Friday night, will miss the rest of the NCAA tournament with a broken bone in his right foot.
That leaves the third-seed Cyclones without a key player in one the most balanced offenses in the country when they play No. 6 seed North Carolina on Sunday in the East Region.
"You can’t sit here and cry about it," Hoiberg said. "We’ll miss him but at the same time, I believe in these guys, the five guys we’ll put on the floor."
Plenty of scoring options remain. Four other players scored in double figures for the Cyclones as Iowa State (27-7) turned what had been a close game early into a rout.
Niang broke the bone when he got stepped on. He stayed in the game and made a couple of baskets before leaving late.
"My role just changes," Niang said. "I just go from being on the court to being our biggest fan on the sidelines."
The Big 12 tournament champions found themselves in an early struggle with a No. 14 seed making its first NCAA tournament appearance in just its third year as a full-time Division I program. But the Cyclones’ quickness and balance eventually took over.
Jeremy Ingram scored 28 for North Carolina Central (28-6), which came in on a 20-game win streak and won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Matched up against a tournament newcomer, Iowa State players said they wouldn’t look past the Eagles. As this year’s tournament has shown, hubris breeds upsets and the Cyclones weren’t taking any chances, especially after a first half in which the Eagles took an early lead and stayed within five at halftime.
The Cyclones were wary of a team that dominated its league, even a lightly regarded like the MEAC. The Eagles also had notched an upset win over North Carolina State and nearly took down Wichita State, the nation’s only undefeated team and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional.
Earlier in the day, North Carolina Central saw their neighbors from Durham, perennial power Duke, get knocked off by Mercer in one of the tournament’s biggest upsets so far and dreamed of making some magic of their own in their tournament debut.
"These kids walked in here expecting to win," North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said.
Iowa State tried to show some muscle at the start when the Cyclones opened the scoring with an alley-oop reverse dunk by Melvin Ejim.
If it was a play meant to scare the Eagles, it didn’t work. North Carolina Central opened the game with a flurry of 3-pointers and put bodies on the Cyclones on every rebound. Karamo Jawara scored 10 points in the first half and tied it 30-30 on a soft jumper.
Iowa State appeared to get the game under control with an 8-0 run punctuated by Ejim’s fast break dunk. The Eagles rallied with a 9-2 run of their own before Iowa State took a 45-39 lead into halftime.
North Carolina Central simply couldn’t sustain it. Over 40 minutes, the Cyclones were just too fast, too strong and too balanced.
There were just too many Cyclones doing too many things.
Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, scored 17 points.
DeAndre Kane, the MVP of the Big 12 tournament, scored 14 with seven rebounds and five assists. Dustin Hogue and Monte Morris each scored 15.
In one sequence, Hogue ripped a rebound out of the arms of an Eagles player, passed to Monte Morris, who whipped the ball to Ejim for a another dunk.
And then there was Niang, whose 3-pointers pushed Iowa State’s lead to 11 early in the second half. Niang made four of Iowa State’s nine 3-pointers.
"It was extremely difficult to slow them down," Moton said. "It was pick your poison."
Kane said the Cyclones will miss Niang’s big shot ability.
"This is a big loss for us," Kane said. "We count on Georges to make a play for us."