AMES — As he hit the floor hard, Hilton Coliseum fell mute.
Iowa State star Georges Niang writhed in pain, clutching his right knee.
A couple minutes passed. Seemed like a couple hours.
“You could hear a pin drop, right?” teammate Abdel Nader said.
A few shouts at the refs failed to fully pierced that prolonged silence as 14,272 Iowa State fans nervously held their breaths— until Niang finally sat up.
Cheering resumed, then intensified. Niang eventually walked, wincing, toward the locker room, his arm draped around teammate Jameel McKay’s shoulders.
Disaster? Nah. Niang returned with gusto, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds as the fifth-ranked Cyclones pulled away for an 84-64 win over pesky North Dakota State Tuesday at Hilton.
“I just got a Charley horse,” Niang said after the game. “I probably overreacted a little bit, but I was seriously in pain, though. But no, I’m good.”
No collective nightmare — like when Niang broke is foot two March’s back during a stirring Sweet 16 run. No, God forbid, ACL injury. Can you say “whew?”
“Best things out of tonight is we won and Georges is healthy,” said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm, whose team iced the game by outscoring the Bison 32-14 over the final 12 minutes. “Really the biggest thing as a coach that goes through your mind is, ‘Man, he’s a senior.’ Obviously we need him, but you never want a senior to get hurt for a lot of reasons, Once (trainer) Vic Miller told me it was just a little contusion and Georges was ready to come back in, it was obviously a sigh of relief for me, for the team, for everybody.”
Niang sustained the injury with about six and a half minutes left in the first half. The Cyclones were clinging to a 24-22 lead. Swiftly, Niang reemerged from the locker room and began working on the stationary bike. With the score tied 27-27, he strolled to the scorer’s table good to go.
The scare proved to be brief, but didn’t feel that way. They could joke about it later.
“He’s soft,” said teammate and roommate Naz Mitrou-Long, who helped stoke the second-half surge with two steals. “Other than that, I thought it wasn’t a big deal. But if he gets hurt, that kind of reminded me of the tournament two years back and that’s why I just kept saying, ’It’s a Charley horse, it’s a Charley horse,’ and he got up and you saw that and he extended his knee and he was fine. That’s when everything went away and everything was cool.”
Niang immediately uncorked a spin move once he returned to the floor, finishing off of Mitrou-Long’s pass, who then added his own layup. Nader swished a 3-pointer and McKay — who finished with 19 rebounds for the second time this season — threw down a dunk.
That 9-0 run didn’t put NDSU away, but it did form the foundation for a strong second half.
“We hit them, but tonight it was like, we’d get it nine, and comeback,” Prohm said. “It was nine, comeback, nine comeback, and then finally we got them.”
Hallice Cooke’s three steals off the bench helped. Nader’s season-high 21 points and Monté Morris’ 18 helped, too. McKay’s 15 points to go along with the 19 boards also went a long way toward fending off the Bison’s multiple comeback efforts.
As for not hitting that magic number of 20, McKay had a chance late until teammate Brady Ernst secured the board instead.
“Me and him are going to talk after this,” he joked. “No, he didn’t know. I should have told him, but he didn’t know. He went up and got it though, but that’s what he’s taught to do so I’m proud of him for getting the rebound.”
And extra relieved that Niang’s scare could be laughed off later, as he quickly got back to his spinning, baby hook-shooting self.
“Hilton got so quiet,” McKay said. “I’ve never heard it that quiet. I’m just happy he’s all right. He’s the heart and soul of our team and he’s the best player in the country, so we need him every night.”