Oklahoma St.-Iowa St. Preview
AMES, Iowa (AP) – Iowa State is more than ready for the postseason after playing 17 games in the nation’s most grueling conference.
But the Cyclones could still use a little momentum before heading off to the Big 12 tournament and beyond.
Sixteenth-ranked Iowa State (22-7, 10-7) has dropped its last two games, road losses to Kansas State and Baylor, after going 7-1 in February.
A win on Saturday over surging Oklahoma State (20-10, 8-9), winner of four in a row, would give the Cyclones a welcome boost of confidence ahead of the most important weeks of the season.
"Teams lose, man. You hit that wall. But like I’ve always said, you’ve got to break through that wall and get back after it," senior point guard DeAndre Kane said.
The Cyclones are likely to earn the No. 4 or No. 5 seed for the conference tournament regardless of what happens Saturday, a rematch of a triple-overtime thriller against the Cowboys that visiting Iowa State won 98-97 a month ago.
Neither team wants a repeat of that first meeting with the conference tournament on deck. But if the Cyclones hope to make a long run in Kansas City, they know they’ll need more out of senior Melvin Ejim and sophomore Georges Niang than they got against Baylor.
Ejim and Niang, who combine to average over 34 points, scored 10 on 5-of-25 shooting in the 74-61 loss Tuesday. Ejim simply had a rare off night, while Niang never got in rhythm after picking up two fouls in two minutes.
Oklahoma State hasn’t lost since star point guard Marcus Smart returned from a suspension. The Cowboys are hoping for an NCAA tournament bid, but a road win over Iowa State could remove any doubt.
Smart and Phil Forte combined for 31 points in the second half Monday to help Oklahoma State pull away for a 77-61 win over Kansas State, two days after the Cowboys beat then-No. 5 Kansas 72-65.
"We need to continue to play well," coach Travis Ford said. "Our motivation is to make the NCAA tournament, so we can’t exhale now. I think we’re in good shape. If you blindly put any resume against ours, I think we’re in pretty good shape."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg knows his team will have a tough time against the Cowboys, who were ranked in the top 10 earlier this season.
"We’re getting them at a point in time when they’re playing great basketball," Hoiberg said. "But I think the way we look at it, with the last two road games, we play at Kansas State, which hasn’t lost a home game all year in conference, then you play a hot Baylor team. Now we’re going against probably the hottest team in the Big 12 right now. Again, those are steps toward the ultimate goal, playing in the postseason and getting prepared for that."
Ejim could also push much closer to a major personal goal, Big 12 Player of the Year, with a strong performance in the regular-season finale.
Ejim leads the Big 12 with 18.4 points a game, and his 8.6 rebounds trail only Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler (9.5). Kane, who is averaging 16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists, will also garner strong consideration along with West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins and even Smart, who averages 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.6 steals.
The Cyclones beat No. 13 Oklahoma State 87-76 in Ames last season. Smart had 24 points, eight rebounds and five steals.