To face North Carolina when you’re healthy is tough enough, but to do it without Georges Niang?

Stranger things have happened, I guess. They call this March Madness, right? We’re programmed to expect things like Mercer over Duke, but for the second year in a row, the foot area is Iowa State’s Achilles’ heel.

With 7½ minutes remaining in the third-seeded Cyclones’ 93-75 victory against North Carolina Central in the second round of the East Regional on Friday, Niang broke his right ankle. Thinking it was just a cramp, he played a couple more possessions. He even scored a broken-foot basket. He played until limping off the floor and getting an X-ray. Broken.

He’s done for the season, just like Chris Babb was after missing the second half against Ohio State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, thanks to a sprained ankle.

“I didn’t even think of that until now,” Niang said, near tears in the locker room after a big ol’ hug from his roomie, Naz Long.

It didn’t matter that Niang scored 15 of his 24 points during a second half in which the Cyclones atoned for pitiful play in the opening 20 minutes.

It didn’t matter that, again, Iowa State’s second half was considerably better than the first half during which they coasted and let the Eagles hang around, thinking they just might be able to improve on their 20-game winning streak.

Wrong.

That’s the way this Iowa State team rolls. It’s their thing. Gravitate to the level of the competition for 20 minutes, then step on the gas.

At 4:15 p.m. Sunday, against North Carolina on CBS, someone else will be in the cockpit.

“I’m sure he’ll be the best cheerleader in the building,” Long said.

Melvin Ejim must be at his career best. Matt Thomas will have to play his best. Dustin Hogue, too. And DeAndre Kane. And Daniel Edozie. And everyone else coach Fred Hoiberg puts into the game.

“Everybody will step up,” Niang said. “These guys have had my back since Day One. I’m not going to individualize. Everyone will step up to the occasion.”

This was typical Iowa State basketball Friday. Trail by three points, lead by eight and have coach Hoiberg tell TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager that he’s annoyed with his team’s defense while leading 45-39 at the break —after shooting 62 percent and scoring 32 points within arm’s reach of the paint.

Vintage Cyclones.