Iowa St.-George Mason Preview
The emergence of Dustin Hogue and the team's balanced scoring have been the major reasons for Iowa State's best start in 17 seasons.
The 17th-ranked Cyclones look to continue their surge Sunday when they face George Mason in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
Hogue is in his first season with Iowa State (8-0) after transferring from junior college and is becoming a force for a team that leads the nation in scoring with 90.9 points per game.
The 6-foot-6 forward had 12 points and 16 rebounds in an 85-82 home win over then-No. 23 Iowa on Dec. 13 and leads the Big 12 with an average of 11.1 boards.
Hogue is averaging 17.0 points and 15.3 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent from the field over his last three games.
"He's just an absolute warrior. He goes after every ball," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "The rebounds he gets, he gets up higher than everyone else and then he elevates a couple of inches. It's just amazing to see how he goes after that ball."
Hogue wasn't a highly-regarded recruit, but he's making his presence felt for the Cyclones, who are off to their best start since opening the 1996-97 season at 10-0.
"Coaches (during recruiting) saw me as being athletic. They didn't let me showcase everything that I could do like passing or playing defense. They just wanted me to do a specific thing," said Hogue, who averages 12.6 points. "Coach Hoiberg, he just lets me play the game and utilize all of my talents."
He's been a nice complement to Iowa State's main scorers. Melvin Ejim leads the squad with 18.7 points per game, while Georges Niang (14.5), DeAndre Kane (14.1) and Naz Long (10.3) also average in double figures.
Niang scored 24 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 18.8 seconds remaining against the Hawkeyes. Ejim finished with 22 points and Long had 13 off the bench.
Iowa State is among the national leaders in assists with 19.8 per game, but Hoiberg knows his team can improve. The Cyclones were outrebounded 49-35 against the Hawkeyes and trailed by seven at the half before storming back.
"I honestly have no idea how we won that game. I look at the box score and they crushed us on the glass and they beat us in transition," Hoiberg said. "I give the credit to this game to our fans. No way in heck we win this game without them."
It remains to be seen how many of those fans make the trip to Hawaii as Iowa State plays three games in four days, beginning with this matchup against George Mason.
The Patriots (5-4), who will be returning to the court after an extended break for final exams, have dropped four of five and are coming off an 81-66 loss to Oklahoma on Dec. 8. That defeat followed a difficult 68-66 loss to South Florida on Dec. 4 in which it led by 17 with 12:19 left in the game.
Bryon Allen scored a team-high 15 points against the Sooners, who outrebounded George Mason 51-29. The Patriots did manage to force Oklahoma into 19 turnovers.
"We'll regroup," coach Paul Hewitt said. "We're nine games into a 30-game season."
The winner of this contest advances to Monday's semifinals against either Oregon State or Akron, while the losers play earlier in the day in the consolation bracket.