AMES — Melvin Ejim clutched a towel in his hands and watched.
The Iowa State forward’s work — 16 points, 13 rebounds — was done and he, like Hilton Coliseum’s 13,148 fans, sat on the edge of a seat the final two minutes last night against West Virginia.
It was an uncomfortable perch.
“It’s horrible, man,” said Ejim who saw the Mountaineers charge back from a 18-point second half deficit before teammate Georges Niang’s layup with 2.5 second left secured a 69-67 Big 12 victory. “When you feel you can help the team, especially in the (final) minutes, it just stinks. But we had the resiliency to come back and fight.”
And win. Barely.
Mainly because West Virginia (8-8, 1-3) suddenly scorched the nets from 3-point range, draining nine of its final 12 from beyond the arc after starting out 0 of 12.
“They caught a rhythm,” said ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team improved to 12-4, 2-1. “And they made tough shots.”
The Mountaineers’ ninth long-range basket — from Jabarie Hinds — tied the score at 67-67 with 13 seconds left.
Cue Niang, who found himself uncovered as Will Clyburn deftly weaved through defenders before dropping off the assist.
“I didn’t think he saw Georges at first but then he made a heck of a play,” Hoiberg said.
Niang then, Hoiberg joked, went on a brief excursion into Cyclone Alley, before retreating to defend.
“That made me a little nervous,” Hoiberg said.
West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins projected different emotions moments later as guard Eron Harris tried to beat the buzzer at midcourt.
Cyclone guard Chris Babb defended him and he stumbled, never getting off a shot.
Huggins stomped his feet as time expired — and Niang sent the basketball soaring through the air.
When asked what he saw on that play, Huggins said: “Same thing you saw.”
He declined to elaborate.
Hoiberg said Babb was his usual self — tough to score on.
“Great job sliding his feet over there, he cut him off at the one dribble,” Hoiberg said. “Then he came back and there was a little bit of contact there, but I though Chris did a good job defending that last play.”
The game’s start didn’t hint at a wild finish. ISU’s first half began with a turnover.
The Cyclones fell behind 7-0 and committed five turnovers in the first eight minutes, which matched the season-low total they’d lost in Saturday’s 82-62 trouncing of Texas.
But ISU got well from its usual spot, scoring its first four field goals from 3-point range.
The twos would come — and with authority.
Will Clyburn, who had 11 points and nine rebounds, soared for a pair of crowd-pleasing dunks, the latter off an alley-oop pass from point guard Korie Lucious that put the Cyclones ahead 23-21.
“We took their blows,” said Lucious, who scored 15 points with eight assists. “We just hung in the game and played together.”