Niang turns heads as Iowa State freshman

Inside the gymnasium, coaches from Kentucky, Syracuse, and Florida, among others, were focused on Nerlens Noel , the prized 6-foot-10 recruit out of Everett prepping at the Tilton School.

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg , however, had a different target. Georges Niang (right) had dominated the workout against Noel, draining a number of jump hooks, using both his left and right hands, at times catching his Tilton teammate

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off balance.

“I just fell in love with the kid and offered him a scholarship right there,” said Hoiberg, a 10-year NBA guard who was named head coach at Iowa State in 2010.

“Most scouts looked at what he couldn’t do, and I saw a guy you can run your offense through.”

Hoiberg watched his vision evolve into a reality.

The 6-foot-7-inch forward from Methuen averaged 12.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a freshman this past season for the Cyclones (23-12), who upset Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I was a pretty tough player [coming in], but I always let my emotions get the best of me,” Niang said. “At Iowa State, that changed for the good. I was just becoming more confident — just building off my teammates.”

After Royce White , Iowa State’s leading scorer and rebounder in 2011-12, declared for the NBA draft and seniors Scot Christopherson and Chris Allen graduated, Hoiberg knew expectations were low this season. But he believed his team was better than projected.

“We needed people to step up, and Georges had a great impact,” Hoiberg said. “More than people would give him credit for. By the end of the season, we were going to him a lot to facilitate the offense.”

In the season opener against Southern, Niang played 28 minutes off the bench, scored 15 points, and added a game-high 12 rebounds in an 82-59 victory.

He received his first start against Omaha, in the 10th game of the season, but Hoiberg said Niang’s breakout performance was his second start against host Kansas, just four games later in the intimidating Allen Fieldhouse.

“He’s not going to play in a more difficult arena,” Hoiberg said. “It showed me how special he was. I went to him that entire game and [Kansas] had to switch matchups. He’s not afraid of anything and it showed me the type of impact he could have on a basketball game, and he did that the rest of the season.”

Despite being guarded by center Jeff Withey , the Jayhawks’ defensive stopper, Niang scored the game’s first eight points and finished with 13 in a 97-89 overtime loss.

“We were all very impressed,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He has an unbelievable feel on the post and the perimeter. He’s going to be an outstanding player. He has a nasty streak to him too that certainly benefits him a lot. He thinks he’s good, and he is good.”

Niang started every game the rest of the season.

In the Big 12 championship game, he scored a team-high 19 points in an 88-73 loss to the Jayhawks. In the NCAA tourney, he delivered 19 points to power the 10th-ranked Cyclones to a 76-58 win against seventh-ranked Notre Dame.

As the season progressed, Niang developed into a 3-point threat (39.2 percent) for Iowa State, which led all of Division 1 with 346 3-pointers made.

“Coach Hoiberg always worked with me on my shot and my confidence was through the roof,” Niang said. “He’s a great guy to be around, and he has a positive outlook on everything. He’s not too hard, but was hard on us when we need it.”

In a 78-75 third-round loss to Ohio State, Aaron Craft buried the game-winning 3-pointer.

Niang switched off a screen to cover Craft and left him space to shoot.

“He made a tough shot,” Niang said.

Niang has moved on since, and is focused on building upon the success of his freshman season.

“You always have to keep working hard,” he said. “You have to make a name for yourself and keep it, and that’s the toughest part. But I love working hard.”

Pitcher is spot on
for Worcester State

The days seemed to never end, and the months crawled on the calendar as Alex Teal worked at a local Sports Authority in the fall of 2011.

The Malden High grad was just over a year removed from earning MASCAC Rookie of the Year honors, but after his sophomore season at Fitchburg State, he was unhappy and moved home.

“I knew as a junior, I was going to be getting all the innings. That hurt me to leave,” he said.

“All my friends from home were at school and my anxiety was through the roof; I was itching to get going and restart my life.”

In the spring, he transferred to Worcester State and went 5-5 with a 6.04 ERA. But in his senior season he has emerged as the ace of the staff at 4-4 with a 1.52 ERA.

His four wins and 45 strikeouts are second in the MASCAC, and his ERA ranks third in the conference.

“Last year, I couldn’t be myself,” Teal said. “I’m a very emotional player and didn’t want to come in and step on any toes. This year, the kids know my personality better and the catchers know my tendencies better and understand what gets me going.”

On April 13, he pitched the second game of a doubleheader against Framingham State, where his brother Austin plays, and pitched a complete game three-hitter and allowed just one earned run in a 4-2 victory.

“It was an emotional one because my brother plays for them, and I was geared up for that one,” Teal said. “I wasn’t throwing my slider the way I wanted to, but I was taking a little off my fastball to make it move like a two-seamer.”

Worcester State (12-16, 4-4) is fourth in the conference, and Teal is hoping to help them secure a spot in the six-team postseason tournament.

“We’re just trying to be hot by the tournament,” Teal said. “We’re hoping to ride the wave in and have everyone healthy.”

Rosano has big week for Mass. Maritime

Mass. Maritime shortstop Bobby Rosano of North Reading batted .400 (6-15) with three RBIs and five stolen bases in a 2-2 week for Buccaneers, including three hits and the game-winning single in a 7-6 eight-inning triumph at Fitchburg State April 14 . . . Stonehill women’s lacrosse senior attacker Heather Sullivan led the 11th-ranked Skyhawks to a 2-1 week with 14 goals. The Andover resident scored six goals and collected her 200th career point in an 18-6 win at Southern Connecticut April 11 . . . Ipswich native and UMass-Lowell senior second baseman Krista MacKenzie led her team to a 5-1 week. She batted .648 with seven runs scored, five RBIs, and a home run. In a doubleheader against Saint Anselm, she went a combined 8-for-8 with four RBIs and three runs scored.