As physical as No. 16 Iowa State’s Big 12 semifinal against No. 10 Kansas was, it may have been more surprising if someone’s face wasn’t bloodied by the end of the game.
With the Cyclones closing out a 94-83 win over the Jayhawks — a victory that sends them to the Big 12 championship game for the first time since 2000 — Kansas forward Brannen Greene drove into the lane trying to cut into Iowa State’s lead. Georges Niang stepped in and took a charge, as well as an elbow to the face.
“I knew I was all right,” said Niang, who scored a team-high 25 points in Friday night’s win at the Sprint Center. “I just felt a warm feeling on my hand. Next thing I knew, my eye was flooded with blood.”
Niang, wearing a small bandage across his right eyebrow, helped the Cyclones break a five-game losing streak against Kansas and helped give them a chance to win the third conference tournament title in school history.
“Everyone says they have more potential and more NBA draft players and whatever, but we won today,” said Melvin Ejim, who scored 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “We won when it counted. We think we’re playing pretty good basketball and can play with anyone in the country.”
Unlike the first two meetings this year — both Jayhawks wins — Kansas 7-footer and Big 12 defensive player of the year Joel Embiid was not playing. He missed his fourth straight game with a back injury.
“It’s definitely a big difference,” Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue said. “He’s a key shot-blocking guy. He changes shots, and he’s really distracting in the paint. To see him not in the game, we had to attack the paint. We did that.”
The Cyclones took full advantage of Embiid’s absence, going 8 for 12 from beyond the arc in the first half to keep them in the game and shooting 68 percent in the second half to pull away from the Jayhawks. Kansas came into Friday’s contest 22-1 this season when leading after the first half and used an 18-2 run to take a two-point lead into halftime.
But, despite Perry Ellis’ 30 points — 21 of them coming in the first half — the Jayhawks lost. Andrew Wiggins chipped in 22 points but connected on only 7 of 21 field goal attempts while Kansas allowed more points than it had all year and the most any team had allowed in a Big 12 semifinal.
“We could have been great defensively and they could have shot 50 percent,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “When you shoot 3s like they did early in the game, you know, a lot of times that’s not an awful play for most teams to make them do that. And, of course, with them, it is a bad play.”
Iowa State denied Kansas a trip to its 11th Big 12 tournament title game and, despite getting five stitches after the win, Niang expects to play in Saturday’s championship against Baylor. The way the Cyclones are playing, it should be another physical game.
“I knew it was going to be a bloodbath, but I didn’t know that, literally, one of our guys was going to be bleeding,” Hogue said.