Iowa State’s 84-74 victory over Alabama in the CBE Classic semifinal Monday before 8,321 at the Sprint Center required every flurry the Cyclones could generate, from familiar players — and one who was suiting up for the first time this season.
The newbie was Matt Thomas, one of two Cyclones who missed the exhibition games and first two regular season contests after violating unspecified team rules.
Thomas was at his sharpshooting best midway through the second half when he buried deep three-pointers on successive possessions and erased a Crimson Tide lead. He also topped Iowa State with eight rebounds, several of the hustle variety.
“Everything was flowing, I was just having fun,” Thomas said.
Alabama caught up and passed Iowa State again, and this time Naz Long provided the play of the night, swishing a corner three pointer while getting his hand smacked by Alabama’s Riley Norris.
Long completed the four-point play with 10:49 remaining, and scored the next four points on free throws for a personal run that gave the Cyclones a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
“They made timely shots,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “We’d get some momentum, and it seemed like they’d come up with a play or two and change it.
Early and late, the punch was provided by Georges Niang, who proved why he’s among the nation’s most versatile offensive players, scoring at the basket and from deep to stake the Cyclones to a halftime lead.
Niang finished with 28 points, and he was on the receiving end of some of Monte Morris’ 12 assists.
Niang, is looking for a big season after his previous one ended prematurely. He suffered a broken bone in his foot during the Cyclones’ first NCAA Tournament game last season against North Carolina Central.
Iowa State had enough to beat North Carolina in the second round, but fell short in the Sweet 16 against Connecticut. Niang averaged 16.7 points last season and is off to a faster start this season.
But Thomas and Long were the top guns against an Alabama zone in the second half that proved effective. Iowa State shot 58 percent, making 29 of 50.
“That’s the makeup of our group,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Whoever the hot guy is we’re going to go to him.”
Iowa State will meet Maryland in the championship game at 8:30 p.m.
Alabama got 27 points from Rodney Cooper.
Maryland 78, Arizona State 73
Maryland’s Melo Trimble delivered the best outing of his four-game college career with 31 points in the Terrapins’ victory over Arizona State. But he didn’t author all of his team’s big moments.
Dez Wells, the team’s top returning player, put Maryland ahead to stay on a turnaround one-hander in the lane with 38 seconds remaining.
“When the game was on the line, we went through Dez,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.
That was the idea in the final minute of a game that was tight throughout. Trimble got the Terps there with free throws that tied the game at 73-73 with 1:22 remaining, and another pair that gave Maryland a four-point cushion at the 18-second mark.
But the game’s pivotal moment belonged to Wells, who finished with 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and helped make a winner of Turgeon, the Topeka native and Kansas guard who had coached at Wichita State and Texas A&M.
“Dez brings the energy and I try to match it,” Trimble said.
Arizona State’s Jon Gilling tied a CBE Classic record with seven three-pointers — in 10 attempts — for his 21 points.
The Sun Devils will meet Alabama at 6 p.m. in the consolation game.
Central Missouri at Sprint Center
Defending Division II champion Central Missouri will meet Quincy at 2 p.m. today at the Sprint Center. Admission is free. The Mules are 4-0.