FORT WORTH – There are just six days until the calendar flips into March Madness, just six more days of the “dog days” of February. The shortest month can be the toughest month. Disappointing seasons and impatience to continue successful seasons can mess with the minds of college players.
“This point of the season,” Iowa State senior Melvin Ejim said Saturday. “It gets tough, you’re body’s tired, your mind’s tired,”
It’s also the time of year when rosters can shrink for a game or a series of games. West Virginia was without Terry Henderson, its second-leading scorer Saturday. Marcus Smart returned at Oklahoma State after a three-game suspension. And TCU was without starting forward Amric Fields.
No. 17 Iowa State visited Daniel-Meyer Coliseum and the Horned Frogs tried to pull a Kansas on the visitors. Last year, TCU stunned the Jayhawks. The Cyclones didn’t take control until the final six minutes to put away the short-handed home team, 71-60.
“We were trying to avoid that,” said Georges Niang when reminded of last year’s surprising upset. “When they got up 10 in the first half and we couldn’t get anything going, I was like ‘Gosh, is it going to happen again?’”
Niang scored six of his 19 points during a 10-1 run late in the game that gave the Cyclones a 69-58 lead with 2:34 to play. Until that time, the Horned Frogs (9-17, 0-14) were in position to win. Iowa State’s game-winning run was something that coach Fred Hoiberg and his plays expected.
“A couple times I thought it might be coming,” Hoiberg said. “You have a couple efforts like this over the course of the year, and you have to find ways to win them. We gave them the confidence early in that game to hang around and to have a chance. I tip my hat to those guys for playing hard, but I'm glad we found a way to win it."
Iowa State (21-5, 9-5) has won six of its last seven. With Kansas knocking of Kansas and Oklahoma defeating Kansas State, the Cyclones are in a three-way tie for second place with the Longhorns and the Sooners.
“We’re fighting to finish second in the Big 12, that’s our goal,” Ejim said. “You can’t allow games like this to hurt you.”
At one point, TCU got six consecutive points from two walk ons (Christian Gore and Thomas Montigel). But the Horned Frogs have had more injuries than any team in the country. Fields’ absence was just another hurdle.
“The thin bench always plays a part, but what hurt us is not knocking down shots when it counts,” said Kyan Anderson, who scored 18 points to lead TCU. “It is irritating, but at this point in time, we have to stay positive.”
TCU was 3-of-12 from the field over the last 11:39. It was evident the “low fuel” warning light was on.
“For the most part, our kids have been unbelievable in their resiliency,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “Amric was like he was playing on one leg. His conditioning is really bad, and the worst thing you can do as a coach is put a guy out there with a bad leg, playing through fatigue.”
The Horned Frogs are last in the Big 12 in rebounding but Iowa State only had a 38-35 edge on the boards. TCU’s man-to-man defense limited the Cyclones to 1-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. Freshman Karviar Shepherd had the second double-double of his career – 14 points and 15 rebounds.
“We lacked some energy but TCU tries to slow it down, lull you to sleep and then attack,” Niang said. “They did a good job of running their stuff. When we had a chance to make a run against them and we took advantage.”
Ejim, the Big 12’s leading scorer at 19.1 per game, finished with 14. He committed two early fouls and was limited to 24 minutes. His dunk with 1:18 remaining provided the final points and kept Iowa State as the only Division I team that has scored at least 70 points in every game.
“You’ve got to finish strong and we were able to do that today,” Ejim said. “It was a great team win, we were able to gut it out.”