By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO — Georges Niang scored 24 points to lead third-seeded Iowa State as the Cyclones pulled away from No. 14 North Carolina Central in the second half for a 93-75 win Friday night in the East Region.
The Big 12 tournament champions found themselves in an early struggle with a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in just its third year as a full-time Division I program. But the Cyclones’ quickness and balance eventually took over.
Iowa State (27-7) had five players score in double figures. Niang’s two 3-pointers early in the second half keyed Iowa State’s run that put the game away.
Jeremy Ingram scored 28 for North Carolina Central (28-6), which came in on a 20-game win streak and won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Matched up against a tournament newcomer, Iowa State players said they wouldn’t look past the Eagles. As this year’s tournament has shown, hubris breeds upsets and the Cyclones weren’t taking any chances, especially after a first half in which the Eagles took an early lead and stayed within five at halftime.
The Cyclones were wary of a team that dominated its league, even a lightly-regarded like the MEAC. The Eagles also had notched an upset win over North Carolina State and nearly took down Wichita State, the nation’s only undefeated team and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional.
Earlier in the day, North Carolina Central saw their neighbors from Durham, perennial power Duke, get knocked off by Mercer in one of the tournament’s biggest upsets so far and dreamed of making some magic of their own in their tournament debut.
Iowa State tried to show some muscle at the start when the Cyclones opened the scoring with an alley-oop reverse dunk by Melvin Ejim.
If it was a play meant to scare the Eagles, it didn’t work. North Carolina Central opened the game with a flurry of 3-pointers and put bodies on the Cyclones on every rebound. Karamo Jawara scored 10 points in the first half and tied it 30-30 on a soft jumper.
Iowa State appeared to get the game under control with an 8-0 run punctuated by Ejim’s fast break dunk. The Eagles rallied with a 9-2 run of their own before Iowa State took a 45-39 lead into halftime.
North Carolina Central simply couldn’t sustain it. Over 40 minutes, the Cyclones were just too fast, too strong and too balanced.
There were just too many Cyclones doing too many things.
Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, scored 17 points.
DeAndre Kane, the MVP of the Big 12 tournament, scored 14 with seven rebounds and five assists. Dustin Hogue and Monte Morris each scored 15.
In one sequence, Hogue ripped a rebound out of the arms of an Eagles player, passed to Monte Morris, who whipped the ball to Ejim for a another dunk.
And then there was Niang, whose 3-pointers pushed Iowa State’s lead to 11 early in the second half. Niang made four of Iowa State’s nine 3-pointers.
North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton should have at least had a chance to enjoy some of his big week. But two days after the NCAA tournament bracket was announced, Brackett’s 1-year-old son was hospitalized with burns after a coffee spill accident and his family didn’t make the trip with him to San Antonio.