By Rob Gray
AMES — When the elbows swing and the sparks fly, somehow the whistle always finds Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim.
Or so it seems.
Ejim, the Big 12’s leading rebounder, naturally hopes that trend changes when the Cyclones (20-10, 10-7) face foul-happy West Virginia (13-17, 6-11) in today’s 12:45 p.m. regular season conference finale at Morgantown.
“It’s tough, because there’s a lot of guys flopping right now and there’s a lot of guys doing all types of stuff so you can’t really play strong,” said Ejim, who is tied for 29th nationally in rebounds per game (9.5) despite standing 6-6 and playing fewer minutes (27) than anyone in the top 60. “You’ve got to be more of a finesse player and that’s unfortunate for the game, but it’s a balancing act that I have to figure out.”
It’s a leveling of scales the Mountaineers haven’t mastered, either.
They’re tied for 292nd in fouls per game at 19.5.
ISU is tied with Kentucky for 115th, at 17 per contest.
“They’ve got some big guys inside that can really throw their bodies around,” said Ejim, who has fouled out of two of the last three games. “We’ve just got to get back to being tough-minded and just knowing that it’s going to be a battle down there. It’s going to be gritty. … We’ve got to bring our hard hats and be ready to play.”
In Wednesday’s NCAA Tournament portfolio-bolstering 87-76 win over No. 13 Oklahoma State, Ejim scored 12 points while grabbing 13 rebounds in 29 minutes before fouling out.
“I’d love to be on the court longer,” said Ejim, who has 13 double-doubles this season. “But sometimes that’s now how it works and I just get tough calls. Just got to try to keep my head and stay in the game.”
Ejim’s so proficient at plucking rebounds from a sea of strong hands, it prompts some to wonder how many he’d get if he played 30-plus minutes per game.
“A lot more than he’s getting,” said ISU guard Chris Babb, who tied a season-high with five assists against the Cowboys. “A lot of guys don’t take roles well, but he’s a great player. Very unselfish.”
Selfless play tends to lead to Cyclone wins.
And one more would erase any doubt of a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.
“It’s all about winning at this point,” Babb said. “We know that. We’re all going in the same direction now.”
For Ejim, that’s all the way to the end — if he can avoid the calls that shadow him like a secondary defender.
“I need to do what I can for as long as I can,” Ejim said. “Because I never know when I’m going to pick up another one.”
Comments are closed.