AMES — Iowa State is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 because it’s a resilient bunch that doesn’t shrink from the moment.
No one epitomizes the mental toughness of these Cyclones more than sophomore Naz Long, whose ability to shake off adversity and knock down big shots is a huge reason why they’re still playing.
Long’s clutch shooting kept Iowa State (28-7) alive more than once in the regular season, and lately he’s saved the Cyclones so often that some fans have taken to calling him “3sus.”
“I’ve said this all along with Naz. You never have to worry about Naz and confidence,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s not afraid to step up and take shots — whether he’s made his last five or he’s missed his last five.”
Long has made his last five when it’s mattered the most. He’s 5-of-5 from 3-point range in the final five minutes of Big 12 and NCAA tournament games so far.
Long’s latest crucial 3 came with 50 seconds left Sunday against North Carolina, tying it at 81 and setting the stage for DeAndre Kane’s last-second layup — which put Iowa State in its first regional semifinal in 14 years.
Long and the Cyclones face Connecticut (28-8) on Friday night in New York.
“That dude catches the ball, you better watch out,” Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim said.
That wasn’t always the case.
Long rarely played as a freshman, averaging just 1.8 points a game as the Cyclones leaned on a senior-laden backcourt to reach the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
He could have easily been in the same situation this season.
The arrival of Kane, a highly regarded transfer from Marshall, and a pair of impressive freshmen guards in Monte Morris and Matt Thomas left Long again fighting for minutes.