On game day, Georges Niang usually drives his Volvo over to Hilton Coliseum several hours before tip-off.
On Monday, though, he decided it wasn’t a good idea. Not only does Champaign Papi, the name Niang gave his car, have over 240,000 miles on it and seems to be on its last leg, but Niang just didn’t think it was smart.
“I got a ride over here, I didn’t want to drive,” Niang said. “You know what they say in driver’s ed, ‘Don’t drive when you’re emotional.’”
Instead, Niang rode to the arena with his father, who had come to watch his son play inside the historic arena one last time. But it wasn’t just nervous energy that kept him from behind the wheel.
Niang was scared.
"But [I was] more afraid because I don't know if I'll ever experience something as great as I experienced here," Niang said. "Just the support, the love, the real love that I felt here, I was afraid for that to happen one last time."
It was senior night — Niang's final home game had come.
While he was full of emotions stepping onto the court, he didn't let it show.
Niang, a Massachusetts native, dropped 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, recording his fifth career double-double in No. 21 Iowa State’s (21-9, 10-7 Big 12) 58-50 win against Oklahoma State (12-18, 3-14 Big 12) on Monday, capping off his career in Hilton Coliseum in fitting fashion.
The game didn’t start out so smoothly, though. Forward Abdel Nader, who also played his final game in Hilton Coliseum on Monday andposterized an Oklahoma State defender with a dunk worthy of the top play of the night on Sports Center, thought it had to do with the emotions of the night.
“[It was tough] just for a little bit,” Nader said. “We came out the gates a little slow. I feel like [we we’re] not our usual selves. But I think in that second half it was easy to see we turned it around real quick.”
While they went into halftime up just two points, the Cyclones opened up the second half on an 11-0 run — which was led mostly by both Niang and Nader.
Iowa State would then ride out that run through the rest of the half, giving it the eight-point win.
“Oklahoma State was obviously a little banged up,” said ISU coach Steve Prohm. “Their style of play was going to be [different]. They weren’t going to attack until under 10 [seconds left] on the shot clock. So a 10-point win was going to feel like a close game, but it was almost like a 15, 18-point game… It’s a great win for us.”
Afterward, though, the focus wasn’t on the game itself. Instead, it was all about Niang.
Sure, the Cyclones still have games left this season. Every player on the team will tell you this season is far from over. But in that moment after the game, the attention wasn't focused on the postseason.
It was on one of the best players to ever play at Iowa State.
“I mean [Niang] gets love everywhere he goes, but he deserves it,” McKay said. “He puts in the work to get the love. He didn’t come here as a herald recruit, and he worked his way to an All-American. As a fan, you have no choice but to respect it.”
While Niang’s time at Iowa State is now extremely limited, his basketball career doesn’t seem to be. After his playing days die down, whenever that may be, Prohm said Niang will switch roles. It’s just a matter of time.
“He will coach,” Prohm said. “There is no debate. He will coach. He coaches every day.”
Though Niang isn’t thinking about that just yet.
“I take it one day at a time,” Niang said. “I’m trying to win the day. That’s a few days down the road.”
“He’ll coach,” McKay quickly interrupted.
Regardless of what lies ahead, his time at Hilton Coliseum has come to an end.
Even though Niang said it’s tough to leave what he sees as the best fans in the world, he knows he left the right way.
“I think I’ve put my all in this place,” Niang said. “I’m content with closing the chapter at Hilton, because I left everything I had out there.”