BIG FOUR CLASSIC: Cyclones outlast upstart UNI
DES MOINES – When March rolls around, Saturday’s Big Four Classic win likely won’t pull much weight with the NCAA selection committee.
Though in Fred Hoiberg’s eyes, the comeback victory was another signifier that his team has the right stuff to go dancing this spring.
Melvin Ejim scored 20 of his 22 points after halftime including back-to-back 3-pointers in overtime to help No. 17 Iowa State hold off Northern Iowa 91-82 in the opening game of the Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday.
“Great teams find a way to win games like this,” said Hoiberg, whose squad trailed by 12 at halftime and 49-31 early in the second half.
“(UNI) came out and they threw the first punch and they kept throwing them and we kept taking them. … They came out and they controlled tempo and that’s what we wanted to do in this game.”
Georges Niang kept the Cyclones in the contest early and scored a career-best 22 points before fouling out late in regulation. Ejim knocked down a 3 to stretch the ISU lead to six with 1:15 remaining before the Panthers closed on a 7-1 spurt. Seth Tuttle’s off-balance 3-pointer banked in to send the game to an extra session at 71 all.
Nursing a 76-75 edge midway through overtime, the Cyclones pulled away with consecutive 3s from Ejim as the lead never dipped below five the rest of the way and Iowa State improved to 7-0 for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Nate Buss matched a career-high with 23 points and helped trigger Northern Iowa’s 15-3 run late in the first half with a couple quick buckets. Buss and Jeremy Morgan combined for 24 points off the bench in the first half as UNI (3-5) looked hungrier, tougher and more energized through the first 25 minutes.
“We just couldn’t get anything going as a team, our body language was bad,” said Ejim of the Cyclones’ rough start. “We just started outworking them because they were outworking us in the first half. We were able to take advantage of that and turn that into offense.”
Facing an 18-point deficit, Iowa State shifted picked up its pressure defensively and got out in transition during a 23-2 surge capped by a breakaway dunk from Ejim. Niang set up the play by blocking Chip Rank’s 3-point attempt before lofting a precision pass to Ejim for the slam as the game completely flipped in a near-seven minute span.
“It felt more like 90 seconds … it happened fast,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “In order to keep Iowa State down from a scoring standpoint, you’ve got to score yourself. If they get their defense working and they force either turnovers or missed shots, they’re extremely difficult to defend because they make that transition so well at the offensive end. Because we played so well offensively in the first half, we had the advantage in transition.”
UNI shot 53 percent and made 6 of 13 from deep in the first 20 minutes, though the Panthers connected on just 4 of 17 3-point attempts the rest of the way.
Wes Washpun tallied career-highs in points (18) and assists (8), while Tuttle added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Morgan finished with 10 points and seven boards.
“We played great in the first half and we’ve got a young team that has shown in different basketball games already that we have an opportunity to have a terrific season,” said Jacobson. “That opportunity still stands after this basketball game. We played so well and got ourselves out to a good start in the second half that I wanted these guys to be rewarded for their 45 minutes of effort.”
Hoiberg didn’t recognize his team in the first half after they had just four assists. Though by turning up the intensity on defense, the Cyclones got their transition attack on track, shared the ball better and changed the pace to their liking.
“The (defensive) pressure was great and that’s what he had to do to get the tempo in our favor,” said Hoiberg, whose squad finished with 12 steals and 16 assists.
Dustin Hogue added his third career double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while DeAndre Kane added 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
“The first half couldn’t have gone much worse,” said Hoiberg. “A lot of teams would fold after thatIt’s a great sign whenever you have a team pull together like that when you’re down double digits on a team that’s hard to make runs on. I’m proud of the guys for finding a way.”
Iowa State will be tested again Friday when they host No. 23 Iowa in the Cy-Hawk Series at 8:30 p.m.
Saturday’s contest marked the first-ever overtime college basketball game in Wells Fargo Arena history. The Cyclones were held to their lowest first half point total of the season (29). UNI has made at least one 3-pointer in 437 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the Missouri Valley Conference.