When Iowa State first saw who it drew in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said he got a little worried.
North Carolina Central had won 20 straight games, dominating the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, so the Cyclones prepared for the Eagles as seriously as if they were Kansas in a Big-12 game.
The Cyclones’ concern was validated last Friday as No. 11-seeded N.C. Central relied on its quickness and its guard play to stay close with No. 3-seed Iowa State through halftime.
In the end, Iowa State, champion of the Big 12 tournament, had too much post strength for Central to handle. Big Georges Niang muscled his way inside much of the night and ended up with 24 points in a 93-75 victory in the Cyclones’ first game of the NCAA tournament.
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Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim added 17 points and eight rebounds for Iowa State (27-7), which used a 22-8 run to break open the game in the second half.
Jeremy Ingram led North Carolina Central with 28 points. Karamo Jawara ended up with a career-high 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting with three assists, while senior Emanuel Chapman added 10 points along with four assists to finish his career with 617 helpers.
The loss inside the AT&T Center in Texas brought an end to what had been a historic season for the Eagles. The maroon and gray finished the 2013-14 season 28-6 overall, tying the 1950-51 and 1988-89 squads with the most wins in a single season, and NCCU was the 2013-14 MEAC regular-season champion and tournament champions.
In the first meeting between NCCU and Iowa State, both teams game out guns blazing as a Karamo Jawara (Bergen, Norway) three-pointer put the Eagles up 14-11 with 14:46 to go.
A 10-2 Cyclone run gave Iowa State a 21-16 lead with 11:27remaining after the first of Niang’s four three-pointers on the night.
The first half saw seven ties and six leads changes. Jawaras second straight bucket tied the game at 30-30, but Iowa State scored the next eight points, with Ejim sending the crowd to their feet with a fast-break dunk to make it 38-30.
Head coach LeVelle Moton’s squad responded with a 9-2 run, forcing an Iowa State time out with 1:45 to go in the first half. ISU took a 45-39 lead into the locker room after Cyclone small forward Dustin Hogue scored on a put-back dunk with 4 seconds left.
In the final half, the Cyclone buzzsaw keep going; Iowa State missed just nine shots including 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) from three-point range, while the Eagles simply could not keep up.
Iowa State led by as much as 23 points as the Cyclones advanced to the round of 32.
ISU shot a season-high 63.6 percent from the field, including 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) from three-point range on the way to the victory, while NCCU shot 46.2 percent from the field in the tough defeat.