DES MOINES — His coach called him “great.”
The opposing coach dubbed him “a load.”
That’s Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim, who led his team’s march to the free throw line in Saturday’s Big Four Classic game against feisty Drake, and, ultimately, an 86-77 win before a crowd of 13,180 at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I think I was running the floor really well,” said Ejim, who scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. “Guys were passing the ball up and gave me the ball in spots I could do something with it. All the credit to them. I was able to either get a good shot attempt or go to the free throw line.”
About that free throw line …
Ejim went there 14 times, sinking 11 — both single-game career highs.
The Cyclones (8-3) shot 41 free throws, draining 30 — both season bests.
“That’s huge,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team avenged last season’s 74-65 loss to the Bulldogs. “We really wanted to get that thing inside and our ball movement was so much better.”
Officials called 52 fouls, with 31 whistles directed toward the Bulldogs.
“We got silly fouls early by some veteran guys,” said Drake coach Mark Phelps, whose team fell to 4-5. “Ben (Simons) and Seth (VanDeest) had to sit for most of the first half. Jordan (Clarke) got into foul trouble, so clearly fouls were a huge deal for us.”
Simons, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, settled for 13 points.
VanDeest kept Drake close, scoring 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half.
Clarke, the team’s top rebounder, fouled out with seven boards — three below his average.
Still, the Cyclones couldn’t create much separation until Will Clyburn’s steal, dunk and free throw with 3:19 left game them an 80-71 edge.
“It gets everybody into it,” Clyburn said. “It just boosts the morale of our team, period.”
Clyburn notched his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
He made all nine of his free throws — and had attempted just two from the stripe in his previous three games.
“Just going with the flow of the game,” Clyburn said. “It happened.”
ISU had 10 turnovers in the first 13 minutes, but lost just seven in the final 27.
The Cyclones made 13 more free throws than Drake and corralled 15 more rebounds.
“That’s a very good team,” Hoiberg said of the Bulldogs. “That’s a team that I think will do very well in the Missouri Valley Conference and I think it’s a team that could surprise a lot of people.”
Ejim’s effort astonished no one.
“He’s a load,” Phelps said.
The Big 12’s leading rebounder matched single-game career highs in steals and assists with four apiece.
“Melvin was all over the place,” Hoiberg said. “We ran plays for Melvin. We don’t normally run a lot for him but he had it going. … He made good plays, whether he scored it, made a kick out, or got to the free throw line. Melvin was great.”
Ejim fell one point short of matching a career high scoring performance.
He scored 22 as a freshman in a 91-88 win over Creighton at Wells Fargo Arena.
And only two came on free throws.
“Melvin likes this arena, I guess,” Hoiberg said. “You now what Melvin’s going to give you. He’s going to go out there and defend. He’s going to rebound and he’s going to run the floor. Whether it’s for him or for a teammate, Melvin’s the guy out there doing the dirty work.”
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