N.C. Central's journey comes to an end
Too fast. Too strong. Too balanced.
Iowa State was simply too much for North Carolina Central's dreams of pulling off yet another big upset.
Georges Niang scored 24 points to lead third-seeded Iowa State as the Cyclones pulled away from the No. 14 Eagles in the second half for a 93-75 win Friday night in the East Region.
The Big 12 tournament champions found themselves in an early struggle with a program 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.
Iowa State (27-7) had five players score in double figures. Niang's two 3-pointers early in the second half keyed Iowa State's run that put the game away before he left with a broken bone in his right foot. Niang will miss the rest of the tournament.
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 this season.
Eagles players said they were proud of a breakout season that ended far from home.
"Of course it's a little tough to end our season here," Eagles guard Emmanuel Chapman said. "But regardless, we're going to always stay together."
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 six at halftime.
The Cyclones were wary of a team that dominated its league, even a lightly-regarded one like the MEAC. The Eagles 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.
And 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. They dreamed of making their own spectacular tournament debut.
"Those kids walked into here expecting to win a basketball game," North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said. "I'm so proud of what they accomplished (but) we didn't give our best performance on the national stage."
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 meant to scare the Eagles, it didn't work. North Carolina Central started 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 had just too many players 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.
"In the beginning we were able to keep on attacking and keep on, you know, being aggressive until we had an opportunity to take the lead and run with it," Ejim said.
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.
Moton said he was sorry to hear Niang was injured.
"That kid is tremendous," Moton said. "That kid plays basketball the right way, and he's a match up nightmare."
Moton should have had a chance to enjoy some of his big week. But two days after the NCAA tournament bracket was announced, Brackett's 1-year-old son was hospitalized with burns after a coffee spill accident and his family didn't make the trip with him to San Antonio.