KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Melvin Ejim backed up his newly minted Big 12 Player of the Year trophy, leading his Iowa State Cyclones to a 91-85 victory over Kansas State in a Big 12 tournament quarterfinal Thursday at Sprint Center.
Ejim netted 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to power Iowa State into the conference semifinals.
“He missed a couple of easy ones out there (or) he could have had a 30-point game,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “But he made those really tough finishes around the basket down the stretch. He hit some big free throws for us and again really helped us do the job on the glass.”
Ejim was joined in double figures by Dustin Hogue (22 points), Georges Niang (18) and Naz Long (14). Ejim’s 10 rebounds helped ISU to a 38-29 advantage on the boards.
Iowa State (24-7) will face the winner of Oklahoma State-Kansas in the first semifinal Friday. Kansas State (20-12) awaits NCAA Tournament selection.
The pace definitely favored Iowa State, which came into the contest leading the conference in scoring. But Kansas State coach Bruce Weber felt his team could stay with the Cyclones if it could record some stops.
“We shot 54 percent (54.5) and scored 85 points but we still couldn’t win,” Weber said. “We’re pretty efficient on offense against them. We just didn’t make enough stops.”
It was the third contest between the two teams, and all three games were high-scoring. Iowa State won in Ames, Iowa, 81-75 on Jan. 25. K-State won in Manhattan, Kan. 80-73 on March 1.
“We wanted to really get it going,” Hoiberg said of his team’s ability to keep it offensive. “They do such a good job of slowing it down, making you start your offense further out on the floor.
“If you would have told me they would score 85, I would have told you we were going to have trouble winning the game.”
K-State was led by Marcus Foster with 21 points. Shane Southwell had 19, Nigel Johnson had 17 and Thomas Gipson had 12.
Foul trouble hurt both teams, as key players had to sit for extended periods. Foster didn’t score in the second half until inside the 4-minute mark after picking up two quick second-half fouls. He scored five points late, but it wasn’t enough.
“We needed Marcus to stay out of foul trouble but it didn’t happen,” Weber said.
The fouls started to hurt at the 11:04 mark in the second half. Foster picked up his fourth foul with the Wildcats leading 60-59. Foster picked up his third foul with 15:40 left and sat for 4:12. But 24 seconds later, he was back on the bench.
But a little more than a minute later, DeAndre Kane picked up his fourth foul for Iowa State. Another minute later, Niang picked up his fourth.
Kane picked up his fifth foul, on offense, with 3:55 left and the Cyclones up 76-74.
“It was real physical,” Niang said. “Credit to them. They played extremely hard and extremely well. We just executed better down the stretch.”
After K-State tied the game 76-all, Iowa State pulled out to a five-point lead, twice. But the Wildcats kept coming back, cutting it to 87-85 on a 3-pointer by Foster.
Long made two free throws to open up a four-point lead. When Foster’s 3-point attempt caromed off, Iowa State raced the other way for a clinching layup by Long.
The first half was played at a pace that fit Iowa State, as the halftime score was 44-41 Iowa State. The Cyclones led the Big 12 in scoring, while the Wildcats lead in scoring defense.
The teams traded body blows early with a series of mini-runs. Neither team led by more than six points until the final two minutes of the first half — and that came at 44-36 from a 6-0 Cyclone run that was answered by a 5-0 KSU run. Both teams had multiple leads of at least five points.
Foster had 16 points to lead all scorers in the first half. No other K-State starter had more than 3 points. Iowa State was led by Ejim with 12 and Niang with 10. All five starters had at least five
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