MARION - As the prep volleyball season nears the midway point, Cedar Rapids Xavier identified a vital ingredient if the Saints are to retain their No. 1 ranking in Class 4A.
Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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AMES — Steve Prohm was certainly aware of who Georges Niang was, but had never gotten the chance to watch him extensively.
Prohm was coaching at Murray State last January when he tuned into the ESPN telecast of College GameDay when the show made its way to Hilton Coliseum. He watched the Iowa State star join the broadcast from Johnny’s inside the arena and was taken by his charisma.
“He was holding court and he’s got a personality,” Prohm said. “He’ll tell you how he feels and that’s a good thing. I think you’ve got to have some personality. He’s got a huge deal of confidence in himself, deservingly so.”
Niang has never wavered in self-confidence, but has simultaneously relied on a work ethic that he developed long ago. That combination has given No. 14 Iowa State one of the best stretches by a player in recent memory, one which he hopes to continue against Texas Tech on Wednesday.
In the last four games — Northern Iowa, at Cincinnati, Coppin State and at Oklahoma — Niang has averaged 24.5 points per game and is shooting 61.9 percent from the field. His 1,765 points make him the active Big 12 leader,
But instead of focusing on what he’s doing well, Niang has set himself to a different standard. Niang isn’t one with many weaknesses in his game, but those absorb much of his focus.
“I just try to think about making winning plays and do things to help my team win,” Niang said. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job offensively, but I just got done watching film with Coach and I can improve defensively and with rebounding. There is a ton of things I can improve on to get my teammates involved.”
Even after his 29-point, eight-rebound effort last Saturday against the Sooners, Niang immediately commented on ball-screen defense and crashing the glass. His understanding of offensive basketball is unlike any player Prohm has coached and has even given the first-year ISU coach a new perspective on some things.
“He helps me as a coach and helps me grow because he challenges you to continue to think of things and analyze things,” Prohm said. “I think we’re both guys who are really hard on ourselves if things don’t go right or the way we want.
“Man, he was special the other day. I thought he made big play after big play, but after the game he wants to know what he did wrong and what he can get better.”
The importance of winning at home also has been amplified with the deep Big 12 standings. Kansas prevailing against Oklahoma in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in triple overtime in Lawrence is the shining example of how winning a conference championship starts at home.
Texas Tech (11-1, 1-0) starts a two-game home stand for Iowa State and gives the Cyclones an opportunity to get on the right side of their 0-1 league record and pursue a regular-season conference championship.
“We’ve just got to try to beat them,” Prohm said. “But playing at home is probably a little more added (incentive) because you know how important those games are. Then you’ve just got to go try to take care of business on the road in certain places.”
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