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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — They were down eight with six minutes to go. The guy who some call the best player on the team was out with a broken foot. The Cyclones were doing battle with one of the most successful programs in the history of college basketball.
Pardon my French, but how in the hell did a limited Iowa State basketball team fight back to earn an 85-83 NCAA Tournament Round of 32 victory over the North Carolina Tar-Heels?
It is all about confidence and that starts at the top. It is time to give Fred Hoiberg another raise. A hefty one at that.
Story time: At the 4 and under media timeout inside of San Antonio’s AT&T Center, the Cyclones trailed North Carolina 76-71.
“I told everybody to look at me and smile,” Hoiberg said to his team. “I said that we would go out and win this game. Everybody smiled. Everybody had a look in their face and we found a way.”
Found a way, they most certainly did. Via a contested last second floater, DeAndre Kane played the role of hero. Clutch 3-pointers by Naz Long and Monte Morris down the stretch were key as well. The senior, the sophomore and the freshmen all had – pardon the ridiculous cliché – ice water running through their veins.
The lesson here: Players play like their coach leads them to do. Good or bad, win or lose, Hoiberg is as frigid as an two-decade old deep freeze. And the result?
“One thing this team doesn’t lack is confidence,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the thing that I tell them late in the game if we are down by a couple of possessions, that we are going to win.”
That has been the story of Iowa State’s run to the Sweet 16. Get down early. Fight back. Get down again. Fight back again. Win the goshdarn game.
“You get down eight and our guys don’t panic,” Hoiberg said. “They fight through adversity and stay positive in the huddles. That’s been the biggest thing about this team that I have enjoyed is how much they stick together during tough times.”
Long’s two 3-pointers in the final five minutes were somewhat expected because he’s done it so many times this season. Long’s 40 minutes of ball were a microcosm of his season. Long struggled early but has surged as of late. On Sunday, he was 1-for-4 from the field at halftime. He looked out of sync midway through the second half but throughout his struggles early in the season and on Sunday afternoon, Long stayed confident.
“I beat myself up at halftime,” Long said. “I missed such uncharacteristic shots. I can’t do that. I’m not allowed to do that especially when we have such a great player like Georges Niang out. He averages 16 points and that has to come from somewhere.”
Naz Long nailing huge shots at the end of games has become quite the trend. It started when the Cyclones visited Oklahoma State on Feb. 3. Long, who entered Sunday averaging 6.9 points per game, was critical in Iowa State’s triple-overtime victory.
“I don’t know man, it’s just the moment. It’s everything that I have dreamed of," Long said. "It’s everything I have been playing basketball for since I was a little kid. It’s those lights."
And what can a guy say about DeAndre Kane? Sunday’s stat line was a fairly typical one, which is really saying something: 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The Marshall transfer was playing in only his second NCAA Tournament game. Now Kane clearly is a confident human being in his own right, but who does he credit for instilling this eye of the tiger within him?
“He (Hoiberg) gives us unbelievable confidence to go out there and play free and create shots,” Kane said. “He told us to smile. Everybody started smiling and we finished the game strong.”
With that, a hungry Iowa State fan base is has a corncob wide grin from ear-to-ear as well. The Cyclones are on their way to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.
Iowa State will meet the East Region’s 7-seed, UConn, in Madison Square Garden on Friday night at 6:27 (central).
Check out CycloneFanatic.com on Monday for more coverage of Sunday’s victory.