Basketball

Iona coach compares Georges Niang to Larry Bird

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DENVER — There is no question that Georges Niang is one of the all-time greats to play basketball at Iowa State. During his pre-NCAA Tournament press conference on Wednesday morning at the Pepsi Center, Iona head coach Tim Cluess compared Niang to one of the greatest players to ever suit up in the NBA.  

"I love him. To me, he’s a throwback,’ Cluess said. "A little Larry Bird like. Maybe not quite as athletic, but does all of those things. He passes the heck out of the ball, handles the ball, shoots the ball, posts you up. He just lets the game come to him. Whatever is available, he takes. Doesn’t really force the issue at all. Plays at a great pace and plays under control the whole time."

Whoa.

That’s some high praise for Niang, who leads Iowa State in scoring at 19.8 points per game. No. 31 currently ranks third in school history in scoring and is now officially a two-time All-American. Niang is 48 points away from tying Barry Stevens as Iowa State’s second all-time leading scorer.

The Gaels, the winners of last week’s MAAC Tournament, now get the challenge that Big 12 teams have faced for the last four seasons – figuring this versatile point-forward out.

“You have to hope that he misses some shots,” Iona star A.J. English explained. “You maybe try to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible but I know that will open up stuff for other players. You just know that he is going to make great plays and you have to answer back.”

Niang, a Wooden Award and Karl Malone Award finalist, is the only player in the country who is averaging 19 points, 6 rebounds and is shooting 50 percent on field goals and 80 percent from the free throw line. According to Iowa State’s sports information staff, only 23 players have done this since 1994-95 with Creighton’s Doug McDermott being the last to do so in 2013-14.

Keep it simple. That’s Iona’s plan of attack. 

"I think he’s the X-factor in the game," Cluess said. "Obviously he makes your whole team go. You surround him with really great players as well, I think he’s just tremendous and should hopefully be playing in the NBA very shortly. I wish he was there already."