- Associated Press - Thursday, March 19, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Georges Niang sat bent over with a towel draped over his head and his face in his hands. Iowa State’s All-Big 12 forward was at a momentary loss for words.

He even apologized for not being able to describe his emotions after the ninth-ranked and third-seeded Iowa State Cyclones lost 60-59 to 14th-seeded UAB on Thursday in the first major upset of the NCAA Tournament.

“All the expectations this team had and then you’re just bounced the first game of the NCAA Tournament,” Niang said. “I can’t tell you how terrible I feel.”

It was the second year of heartbreak for Niang, who broke a bone in his right foot in the Cyclones’ opening win in last year’s tournament on their way to the Sweet 16. Their leading scorer played only eight minutes of the first half with foul trouble, though he managed to finish the game with only 11 points.

“I let a lot of people down,” Niang said. “It’s just tough to just sit and have this be a reality.”

Iowa State (25-9) came into the South Regional looking for a much longer run than a year ago, when it reached the regional semifinals without Niang. The Cyclones just couldn’t match the scrappy Blazers on the boards and couldn’t hold onto a 55-51 lead with 3:13 left.

Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg called it as tough a loss as he’s had. The Cyclones had won five straight, rallying from double-digit deficits in each on their way to the Big 12 Tournament title. Hoiberg said they had an emotional three days in Kansas City and were not helped by playing the first game Thursday.

“I’m not going to make any excuses,” Hoiberg said. “You’ve got to come out and play 40 minutes … I don’t know. Maybe we should have let them get up double digits. That’s kind of how we play our best.”

Iowa State wound up as the first No. 3 seed to go down on the day. Baylor followed within the hour, a 57-56 loser to No. 14 seed Georgia State. That makes this the third straight year a 14 seed has upset a No. 3 seed, and further damaged the reputation of the Big 12.

The Blazers (20-15) came in with the youngest team in the NCAA Tournament and with nobody having played in this event. They wound up winning the program’s first NCAA game since 2005 and ran over to celebrate in front of the fans of a school that shut down its football program in December.

“We were celebrating because that was a really big win for us with us being the underdogs,” UAB guard Tyler Madison said.

Iowa State, which lost its opener as a No. 2 seed in 2001, last led 57-56 on a basket by Monte Morris. But William Lee hit a 17-foot jumper with 24 seconds left.

Niang had a jumper blocked by Tosin Mehinti, and Lee got the rebound. Lee hit two free throws with 12.1 seconds left for the Blazers’ final points.

The comebacks the Cyclones made so successfully in the Big 12 tournament never materialized.

“We anticipated we would start to make a run,” Cyclones forward Jameel McKay said. “Throughout the day, shots weren’t falling like we thought they were.”

Naz Long missed a 3 that Morris tipped in with .4 seconds left, and the Cyclones couldn’t get the ball back before the Blazers started celebrating their gutty win.

Robert Brown led UAB with 21 points, Lee finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Madison also had 11 rebounds as the Blazers dominated the boards 52-37.

Morris finished with 15 points for the Cyclones, who were making a school-record fourth straight tournament appearance only to lose their opener for the first time since 2001. Reserve Matt Thomas added 11 points, and McKay had 10 points and 12 rebounds.

The Cyclones opened the game with a 12-2 run. The Blazers took a 31-28 halftime lead before a 6:52 scoring drought. Not that it hurt as the teams wound up swapping the lead 17 times, with eight ties.

STREAK CONTINUED: UAB’s win as a No. 14 followed what Mercer did to Duke last year in the tournament. In 2013, it was Harvard upsetting New Mexico. So now Iowa State joins the list. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team was also a 3 seed, saw UAB’s upset and said of Iowa State: “They took the bullet, not us.”


UAB: Blazers’ fans didn’t miss an opportunity to chant “Fire Ray Watts” during timeouts in their protest against the university president who shut down the school’s football program in December. … The Blazers had a 52-37 edge on the boards, including 19-9 on offense. … UAB coach Jerod Haase won his debut as a head coach, though he appeared in 17 other tournaments as a player or assistant.

Iowa State: Thomas hadn’t scored in double figures since late February, a span of six games. … The Cyclones, who came in with the third-most wins in school history, lost as a No. 2 seed to 15th-seeded Hampton in 2001.


AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.

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