AMES — Georges Niang became the 31st player in Iowa State history to score 1,000 or more points in a career.
He didn’t smile, though — and used precious few words to describe the feat.
“It’s cool to score 1,000 points,” the Cyclones’ standout forward said after his 14th-ranked team’s 93-82 season-opening win over Oakland (Mich.) at Hilton Coliseum.
“It’s a little disappointing defensively,” said Niang, who scored a career-high 30 points while grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out a team-best five assists. “I feel like we’d get two stops and really couldn’t propel ourselves to get that third one.”
Hey, it was a game one of many for a team many feel can contend for a Big 12 title and deep NCAA Tournament run, but it’s a good sign when players such as Niang can dwell on the negative and vow to do something about it.
“Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror, including me, and really work on getting stops down the stretch,” Niang said.
ISU (1-0) started slow on both ends of the floor while falling behind 10-7.
The Cyclones missed 12 of their first 19 field goal attempts, but finally heated up, hitting 21 of the next 33 to bolt to an 89-71 lead with 3:40 left.
The key: Crisp ball movement along with sharper defense in the second half.
“I told our guys that, if we move the ball like we did in the second half we’re a pretty tough team to stop,” said Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team played in front of a sellout crowd (14,384) at Hilton for the 12th straight time in the regular season. “I think we had 93 (points) with over three to play and then just couldn’t find a basket there at the end to put the game away for good. But it’s fun to watch this team. It’s fun to coach this team with so many weapons, and for the most part, they do make simple plays.”
Front and center in that regard stands senior transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who notched 20 points and drilled 8 of 9 free throw attempts.
“Just the simple plays,” Hoiberg said. “He’s so athletic and so gifted. We didn’t run a lot for Bryce tonight. He just found a way to go out and get it on his natural God-given ability.”
Dejean-Jones also grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds while doling out four assists.
“It felt good to finally come out and her and start my last (and first) year at Iowa State,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere and I really enjoyed playing out there with the guys. We do have to get better defensively, but I think for the most part we did a great job.”
Especially just before and after halftime.
The Cyclones reeled off a 7-0 run to close the first half and break a 38-38 tie.
A pair of free throws from Niang — who went 10 of 11 from the line — gave ISU a double-digit lead for good at 61-50 with 11:52 left.
“I thought we played to the right guy,” Hoiberg said. “We got the ball in the right hands and a lot of that time it obviously was Georges.”
But Niang continued to focus on his defensive shortcomings.
He guarded mostly in the post, where Oakland’s Corey Petros totaled 25 points and eight rebounds.
So when Niang was asked one more time about one of his offensive accomplishments, he paused.
Hoiberg said: “Say, ‘I need to play better defense.’”
Niang said: “I need to play better defense. The guy I was guarding put up some serious numbers, so that’s really what I’m going to (focus on) with coach and watch some film. I need to be more active on the defensive end and get more stops.”
ISU made just two 3-pointers in the first half, but back-to-back long-distance baskets helped create the breathing room necessary for the win. Niang hit the first to put the Cyclones up 69-56 with 9:05 left. He also grabbed the rebound after the ensuing defensive stop and fed teammate Naz Long for another 3-pointer 44 seconds later.
Oakland ended up shooting 51.8 percent from the field — but many of those baskets came late as ISU emptied the bench. Still, that’s too high a number for the Cyclones to give up, regardless of when the hottest shooting came.
“That’s what’s going to make the difference for us this year, if we can consistently find a way to get stops,” Hoiberg said. I think we’ve got guys here capable of doing it. Obviously we’re a little thin on numbers right now (with Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader out one more game because of suspensions). When we get our full roster, I’m excited to see what we can do on the defensive end.”
ISU outscored the Golden Grizzlies 14-0 in fast-break points. … Niang became the first Cyclone to score 30 or more points in a season opener since Curtis Stinson dropped 35 on now-defunct Mountain State (W.V.) in 2005. … Niang and Dejean-Jones combined to go 18 of 20 from the line, while Monte Morris and Dustin Hogue were a combined 8 of 17. … Dejean-Jones scored in double digits for the 50th time in his career.