AMES — While Iowa State’s stars shined, Texas coach Rick Barnes shook his head.
“I actually started laughing a couple times,” Barnes said of his No. 17 team’s turnover-fueled, first-half follies against the 19th-ranked Cyclones. “Are you kidding me? Could it get any worse? And it did.”
Barnes’ unhappy chuckles cropped up early and late Tuesday — thanks to ISU’s trio of Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang combining for 67 points in the Cyclones’ Big 12 race-tightening 85-76 win witnessed by 14,384 fans at Hilton Coliseum.
All three shot better than 50 percent from the field as ISU (20-5, 8-5) drew into a third-place tie with Oklahoma in the conference standings.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” said Ejim, who led the Cyclones with 25 points and helped fuel a decisive 11-2 late second-half run. “I thought that the last few games I hadn’t been as aggressive. I wasn’t playing as well as I know I could.”
But it’s hard — if not impossible — for Ejim to live up to the 48-point, 18-rebound performance he unleashed on TCU three games ago.
Tuesday the senior settled for disrupting the Longhorns’ long-standing dominance on the boards, grabbing two of his three offensive rebounds early in the first half.
“After they got a couple, I took it upon myself to grab some,” Ejim said.
Try four — on the first possession of the game.
“They were playing volleyball on that first possession,” said ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team won for the fourth time in the past five games.
They didn’t finish, though.
That was a recurring theme for Texas (20-6, 9-4), which erased a nine-point halftime deficit in the first six minutes of the second half but shot just 33 percent and was outscored 40-18 in the paint despite owning a 44-35 rebounding advantage.
“I think we did a good job of playing some defense,” said Niang, who did better than good on Longhorns’ big man Cameron Ridley.
Niang, at 6-7, held the hulking 6-9 post player to 0-for-5 field goal shooting and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“He was a non-factor,” Barnes said of Ridley.
And that’s saying something.
Ridley scored 16 points, collected 11 rebounds and blocked five shots in an 86-76 win over the Cyclones last month in Austin.
“It’s a tough grueling game when you’ve got to go up against (him),” Niang said. “That’s like a sumo wrestling match.”
The game played out like one, with the Longhorns tying the score 48-48 on Isaiah Taylor’s layup that capped a 10-3 spurt.
It remained tense until Kane’s layup, coupled with baskets from Dustin Hogue helped push ISU’s lead to double digits with 5:33 left.
Hogue finished with nine points and seven rebounds and point guard Monte Morris added six assists to no turnovers to augment the strong output from Ejim, Kane and Niang.
“One thing about these guys is they’ll sacrifice anything to win,” Niang said. “So if it’s Monte giving up the ball, if it’s Dustin grabbing extra rebounds, they’re just going to do it.”
No one’s laughing about that — ironically or otherwise.“Our guys made very unselfish plays for the most part,” Hoiberg said.