AMES, Iowa (AP) - It would be tough to call Iowa State forward Georges Niang underrated since everyone in the Big 12 knows how good he is.
But on a team full of stars, it’s easy to overlook him.
Niang isn’t nearly as exciting as high-flying forward Melvin Ejim or as fun to watch as point guard DeAndre Kane, one of the nation’s breakout players.
Niang has simply been remarkably consistent and extremely effective. The sophomore has scored at least 17 points in nine of his last 10 games. He had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists on Saturday to help No. 15 Iowa State (21-5, 9-5 Big 12) hold off TCU.
Niang is averaging 16.5 points and 3.8 assists a game, and his strong perimeter shot and passing ability at 6-foot-7 can be a matchup nightmare for opponents.
Coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday that Niang means as much to the Cyclones as anyone else on the team - including the flashier Ejim and Kane.
“That’s a great luxury to have, when you have three guys you can go to at any moment in the game,” Hoiberg said. “I give our guys a lot of credit for locating the mismatch and playing to it, whoever that might be on a given night. A lot of times that is Georges.”
Niang has been a key player for the Cyclones since the moment he joined them last season. Now that he’s more experienced and in much better shape, Niang has quietly become one of the best players in the Big 12.
Niang came on toward the end of his freshman season, finishing with 12.1 points a game and earning Big 12 all-rookie honors. Niang finished with the fourth-most points by a freshman in school history and matched his previous career game high of 19 in Iowa State’s win over Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament.
Niang realized that he needed to greatly improve his conditioning. He renewed his focus on fitness in the offseason and dropped 10 pounds without losing any strength. He says it also helped his defense.
“There were definitely times where I felt like I didn’t have anything left in the tank last year. But I feel like that rarely happens this year,” Niang said. “One thing I realized my freshman year is that you can show up every day. But who’s going to bring it 100 percent every day? That’s the tough thing when the season gets grueling or hard is that some guys want to be there, but they don’t want to put it (the work) 100 percent.”
Niang gets most of his points off of spin moves, bank shots and jumpers, and he sometimes does so without appearing to jump more than a few inches. He knows he isn’t as athletic as some of his teammates.
“I love it. If I can have an old man’s game and still give you buckets, then what does that say about you? Your new man’s game is not working out too well for you. So I’m fine with my old man’s game,” Niang said.
Niang has also been extremely reliable in crucial moments.
Niang shot 60 percent in the final 5 minutes of games leading up to Saturday’s victory over the Horned Frogs, a trend highlighted by his game-winning layup with 1.8 seconds left against rival Iowa in December.
Niang’s points per game are also slightly higher in Big 12 games, even though many of those games were against ranked teams.
“You can give him the ball late in the game and he can go create, not only for himself but for a teammate,” Hoiberg said. “Georges has no fear. That’s the great thing about him…he’s been awesome.”
But while Ejim and Kane are in line to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors, Niang likely won’t join them.
Still, Niang has earned the respect of his teammates and others around the league with his play, even if it can be unexciting.
“He reminds me of myself because recently he’s been ‘Mr. Consistency.’ He’s been getting it done,” Ejim said. “It’s only a matter of time before he starts getting the recognition he deserves. I don’t think it’s going to take long before Georges starts getting noticed.”
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