Living on the Ejim: ’Clones rally past OU
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Missing 11 of 12 3-pointers might dishearten most teams, but Iowa State, which led the nation and set a school record this season with beyond-the-arc success, merely dug in and kept firing away.
The Cyclones also went to work getting follow shots and points inside the paint, unleashing a 12-0 second-half run and beating Oklahoma 73-66 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“Going into the second half, we knew we didn’t shoot pretty well,” said Melvin Ejim, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds as the Cyclones (22-10) won their first conference tournament game since 2005. “But we knew we had confidence. Coach kept telling us these shots are going to fall. All year, we go through stretches where they don’t fall and we go through stretches where we can’t miss.”
Will Clyburn had seven points during the 12-0 second-half run for the Cyclones, who led the country and set a school record with 309 3-pointers. Misfiring time after time in the first half, they fell 14 points behind. But they found the range in the second half and hit six 3-pointers.
Coach Fred Hoiberg insisted he was not fretting when the shots weren’t falling.
“My job as a coach is to try to get those guys playing with confidence every time they’re out on the floor,” he said. “The one thing that I did like, and that I talked to them about, is how we did attack when the shots weren’t falling.”
In the semifinals on Friday, the fifth-seeded Cyclones will meet the winner of the Thursday afternoon match between top-seeded Kansas and No. 9 seed Texas Tech.
Clyburn had 17 points, and Georges Niang and Chris Babb each had 10.
Oklahoma (20-11) was led by Romero Osby’s 18 points. Cameron Clark had 17, including two free throws that gave the Sooners a 60-48 lead. But then Niang hit a 3-pointer and ignited the 12-0 run. Clyburn’s long 3-pointer tied it at 60 at the 4:09 mark and brought several thousand Iowa State fans roaring to their feet.
“They got a lot of loose balls down the stretch,” Osby said. “A lot of loose balls that we were getting in the first half. Even when we were up 12 or 13, they were still getting those loose balls and putting them back in baskets or putting a lot of pressure on us.”
Clyburn banked home an Iowa State bucket during the 12-0 run, then hit the 3-pointer. Oklahoma’s Sam Grooms had two air balls during the run but canned a free throw to tie the score at 63 before Tyrus McGee’s 3-pointer put the Cyclones ahead for good at 66-63.
Another Grooms free throw sliced the lead to two points but then Ejim banked home another bucket for Iowa State, and Babb drilled a 3-pointer for a 71-66 lead.
Romero, the first Sooner in four years to be voted first-team all-conference by Big 12 coaches, had 12 points and seven rebounds as the Sooners dominated the first half and pushed the bulge to 32-18 on Je’lon Hornbeck’s two free throws.
Osby rimmed out a free throw midway through the second half for the Sooners’ first missed foul shot against the Cyclones since tying an NCAA record by going 34 for 34 in their previous game against each other. The streak ended at 39 straight, and for the game, the Sooners were 15 of 18 from the line.
The Cyclones, who led the nation and set a school record with 309 regular-season 3-pointers, misfired on their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc and were only 1 of 12 while trailing almost the entire first half. For the game, they were 7 of 26 while going 14 of 14 from the foul line.
The Cyclones did not hit their first 3 until Babb connected with less than 2 minutes left in the half, capping a 7-2 spurt which trimmed Oklahoma’s lead from 30-18 to 32-25.
Two possessions later, Steven Pledger hit Oklahoma’s second 3, and the Sooners eventually went into halftime with a 37-29 lead.
Ejim’s two free throws capped the scoring for Iowa State, which had split with the Sooners during the regular season.
“They’re a good shooting team and they made shots at critical times late in the ballgame,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “And some of those came off of second-shot opportunities, loose balls that they got to that we didn’t.”