AMES — Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim watched and shadowed Shane Southwell intently, then coiled up.
Seemingly endless late-week video study of the Kansas State forward prepared Ejim for a pivotal moment Saturday — when Southwell rose up to hoist a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 1:38 left.
A blocked shot would be a game sealer and bad streak finisher. A foul? Uh oh.
“Hey, you get the block it’s a great play,” said Ejim, who got the block and also scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half as the No. 17 Cyclones snapped a three-game skid by outlasting the Big 12 rival Wildcats 81-75 before 14,384 fans at Hilton Coliseum. “You foul and then you’re the reason why you lost. Luckily I was able to get the block and we were able to win.”
No luck involved.
Saturday allowed ISU (15-3, 3-3) to get right in a number of ways — and front and center in that was shooting guard Matt Thomas, who drilled his first four 3-point shots as ISU built a 46-34 lead.
The freshman had drained just 1 of 12 long-range baskets while playing diminished minutes in consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, but hit three in a three-minute span Saturday to help turn an 18-17 deficit into a 28-22 lead.
“I think it might have been the pink socks, actually,” Thomas, who scored a career high-tying 14 points, said jokingly of part of his attire. “But no, it felt good. My teammates and coaches have been behind me these last few games where I haven’t been shooting the ball well. they kept believing in me and it’s easy to go out and shoot when you have great coaches and teammates like that.”
Hoiberg had asked Thomas to take a social media break this week as some fans became critical of his suddenly errant shooting.
That suggestion may turn into a mandate after Saturday’s performance.
“I’ll tell him to keep it off,” Hoiberg said with a smile. “I don’t think he listened to me, but I feel so good for the kid because he puts so much time and effort into it. Anytime you of that, you feel their pain when they’re going through the struggles. For him to come out and hit all four of his 3s in the first half was huge for us. It really spreads the floor. It allows DeAndre (Kane) to go to work and it allows Georges (Niang) to go to work on the block.”
Niang hit ISU’s first two 3s after the Wildcats (14-6, 4-3) bolted to a 10-4 lead.
He scored 18 points, including 4 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc — and it wasn’t that long ago his shooting woes had been highlighted.
Niang went 0-for-9 from 3-point range in the home loss to Kansas, but has hit 8 of his last 13 in the two games since.
“It was bound to happen,” Niang said of Thomas’s breakthrough. “Shooters go through slumps. Shoot, I (did).”
So much for that.
For now, at least.
The Cyclones went back into early-season mode Saturday, winning with good shooting, grit, and defensive stops at key times.
Niang held K-State big man Thomas Gipson to four points.
Ejim put the damper on Southwell — and also scored eight of ISU’s last nine points.
“(Ejim’s) such a smart player,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he timed it great.”
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