There's no quit in this team. With Iowa State down 18 early in the second half, it may have looked like they quit, but ISU rallied for a memorable, 91-82 overtime victory over UNI in Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines in the opener of the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic.
For much of the first 40 minutes, UNI looked like the more focused and inspired team and seemingly did as they wish on both ends of the floor, frustrating Fred Hoiberg's bunch like only UNI can do. For the third time this year though, Iowa State battled back from a double-digit second half deficit and now sits at 7-0.
There's a lot to get to with this game and we won't cover all of it, but here's what stood out.
Boy Georges No More
We've talked extensively about Niang's play early into his sophomore campaign. He's struggled at times, pressed at others and been foul-prone far too often for a guy that is expected to be one of the leaders of this team. Tonight, though, Niang played like a man, carrying Iowa State and he kept the Cyclones in this game. When nothing else was going right, Niang delivered time and time again before ultimately fouling out. He finished with 22 points on 9-16 shooting and had arguably the best defensive game of his young career, coming up with four steals and three blocks, one of which came on a three-point attempt where Niang closed out, tipped the shot, corralled the loose ball and fired it down court while falling out of bounds to a streaking Melvin Ejim for a fast break lay up. We don't pick a "Play of the Game" around here, but if we did, that would be the one.
Ejim Is An All-Timer
I've seen this topic popping up here and there over the last few weeks and I've not really given much thought to it, but after that overtime session, I fully admit that it's time and maybe well past time to starting looking at Melvin Ejim differently. He shook the "glue guy" label long ago. He turned in a, "I was there when..." type of performance against Michigan a few weeks back, and now he's nailing clutch 3's in overtime to secure a memorable comeback win. And is there any way we can get this guy back in Wells Fargo Arena again this year? In three career games inside the Well, Ejim has gone for 20+ each time, including his 22 points tonight on 4-7 outside shooting. For good measure, Ejim snagged 7 boards as well. Ejim is going to be one of those rare four-year starters and will be on quite a few all-time lists for career statistics. And while the numbers will show he belongs among the greatest Cyclones ever, it's delivering when it matters most that cements that type of status and Ejim most definitely is building that type of legacy.
Some Tough Son of a Bitches
The mental and physical resolve of this team continues to impress. I have to admit, I've kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop with this team. I had concerns coming into the year about just how good this team was and despite some brilliant basketball, I still had questions about the mental make up of this team. After battling back from an 18-point deficit and overcoming another bullshit bankshot at the buzzer, though, I think I've finally accepted that this team just has it. They play well together, they encourage each other and above all else, they understand how to win. Niang and Ejim played with this type of attitude a year ago, but the additions of DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue have made this team special. Both Hogue and Kane had double-doubles and each guy shot at least 11 free throws. Coming off a 22-point, 16 rebound game against Auburn, Hogue went for 17 points and 14 rebounds against UNI. That's your Big 12 Player of the Week right there. Not to be outdone, Kane scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out 6 assists, picked up 3 steals and shot 15 free throws in the win. I can't say enough how impressed I've been with the play of these two through 7 games and they bring a toughness factor that I haven't seen in an Iowa State team in quite some time.
Well, we have to talk about it I guess. Full disclosure here, but when UNI was taking the ball out, I was yelling above my entire section in the arena for Fred to take a time out. What I did not realize at that time was that UNI was out of timeouts. Hoiberg initially looked like he was going to call one, but then looked back to his assistants, who must have told him that UNI was without a time out, and after the game, The Mayor stated that is why he didn't take one. He didn't want Jacobson to get a chance to set something up. We know what happened.
I can't fault Hoiberg for not calling that time out and not fouling in that situation. It makes sense and Iowa State and specifically Melvin Ejim did exactly what they were supposed to do, but Seth Tuttle just got lucky and that led to overtime. Knowing now what I didn't realize during the game, I respect Hoiberg even more. He showed that he's not going to live by a certain philosophy, but is going to let the circumstances of the game dictate what he wants his team to do and that's the mark of a wise coach.
- The atmosphere in Wells Fargo Arena wasn't nearly as hostile as I thought it would be. I sat near or around a lot of Hawkeye fans and most of them just watched the game in silence, never getting behind the UNI cause and the building was by far the loudest when things were going well for Iowa State.
- Monte Morris isn't really going to show up much in the stat sheet, but watching him continue to grow and get more and more comfortable playing at this level, I have no doubt that he'll not only be our floor general next season, but a very good one at that.
- Usually calm and collected, tonight was the most animated I've ever seen Fred Hoiberg on the sidelines. He let the officials have it more than a few times and appeared to challenge multiple players, Naz Long specifically, regarding the effort they were playing with during Iowa State's awful first half.
- Iowa State played 8 guys, but Sherron Dorsey-Walker only saw 1 minute of game action. I stayed and watched a good chunk of Iowa's game against Drake and can tell you that a 7-man rotation against Iowa likely won't cut it. Will Dorsey-Walker or Daniel Edozie be ready to go on Friday night when Fred calls their number?
- I've been to enough events at WFA to have the prices of concessions just about memorized, but that doesn't make paying $8 for beers any easier.