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Iowa State survives Iona, 94–81, in NCAA tournament first round

The Cyclones beat the Gaels in the first round of the NCAA tournament and will face the winner of Purdue vs. Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday.

What happened

Despite a cold start from star senior Georges Niang, Iowa State’s red-hot shooting from the perimeter anchored a 94–81 win over No. 13 Iona in Denver on Thursday afternoon. Playing at their typical breakneck pace, the Cyclones used standout performances from junior guard Matt Thomas and senior forward Abdel Nader in the first half and a strong second half from Niang to hold off a second-half surge from the Gaels. Niang finished 11-of-23 from the floor with 26 points and all five Cyclones starters finished in double figures. Iona junior forward Jordan Washington and senior guard A.J. English combined for 54 points in the losing effort.

Why it matters

Iona was a trendy upset pick because of Iowa State’s limited depth, porous defense and hobbled point guard, Monte Morris. That pick looked shortsighted before the first TV timeout. Iona struggled to keep up with the Cyclones’ frenetic pace, failing to cover wide-open threes and allowing Thomas and Nader a series of free looks. The Cyclones would hit 10 threes on the game and exceed their season average of 81 points. It was the 21st time this season that the Cyclones eclipsed 80 points. After an unsightly loss to UAB in the first round of last year’s tournament and the departure of coach Fred Hoiberg in the off-season, the Cyclones were a bit of an unknown entering this season. Now, they look like a team that, at the very least, can run with anybody. The games will be high-scoring, but if the Cyclones keep the tempo high, they can compete with any team in the nation.

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What’s next

Iowa State will face the winner of No. 5 Purdue and No. 12 Arkansas Little-Rock in Denver on Saturday.