DENVER – Georges Niang scored 28 points and Iowa State watched Josh Hagins closely in the second half of a 78-61 win over Little Rock in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
The No. 4 seed Cyclones (23-11) advanced to their second Sweet 16 in three years. They will play Virginia, which beat Butler 77-69, in Chicago on Friday.
Niang, the winningest player (97) in Cyclones history and Iowa State’s only two-time All-American, was simply too much for the 12th-seeded Trojans (30-5) of the Sun Belt.
For the second straight game, Hagins had just two points at halftime.
Unlike last time, when he went off for 29 more in a double-overtime win against Purdue, Hagins added just six after the break.
Led by Roger Woods’ 19 points, the Trojans kept things close for much of the first half, and Kemy Osse’s 3-pointer pulled Little Rock to 26-24.
Niang responded by doing all of the heavy work in a 10-0 spurt that helped the Cyclones grab control for good.
He sank a 3-pointer from the top of the circle, marking his 43rd consecutive game in double figures. Then he drove through the lane for a layup followed by another 3-pointer that barely fluttered the net.
Matt Thomas chipped in 16 points for Iowa State, which led 40-28 at halftime.
The Cyclones opened the second half on a 13-5 run that included a nifty drive and two free throws by Niang, who honed his hardwood skills going up against future 76ers big man Nerlens Noel during two years of high school and countless summer AAU practices.
Those skills have helped him turn around Iowa State’s basketball program – and become the second-leading scorer in school history, surpassing the late Barry Stevens (2,190) with 2,198 points.
And his presence prevented the Trojans from completing another big comeback like they did 48 hours earlier when they erased a 13-point deficit in the final 3 1/2 minutes to force overtime against Purdue, the fifth seed in the Midwest bracket.
This time, Little Rock trailed 65-52 with 3:49 left – and Hagins had just hit his first 3-pointers sandwiched around a finger-roll bucket by Niang.
Once again, there was a buzz in the Pepsi Center during the timeout.
The Boilermakers made the mistake of matching up with Little Rock’s quick guards down the stretch, which was a strategy the Trojans welcomed. It’s something the Cyclones didn’t do. For one thing, they don’t have a deep enough bench.
So, they stayed “big.”
And Little Rock soon wilted.