Ejim, ISU winning on the boards and scoreboards

Scrappy Cyclones leading the nation in rebounds per game

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AMES — He’s not the tallest, widest, or springiest.

Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim just gets rebounds.

No ifs ands or excuses.

“If you say it’s size, I wouldn’t be winning that battle,” said the 6-6 Ejim, whose 8.9 boards per game has helped the Cyclones rise to the top of the NCAA rebounding chart, at 46.9 per outing. “A lot of it has to do with having that mentality to try to go after it every time and get it — even when you’re not the biggest on the court.”

Owning the glass has gone from feared potential weakness to resounding strength for ISU, which plays host to Florida Gulf Coast (6-3) in Tuesday's 7 p.m. game at Hilton Coliseum.

The Cyclones (5-2) have outrebounded all seven of their opponents this season.

Two of those foes — Cincinnati and UNLV — rank third and seventh, respectively, on the boards.

And each saddled the Cyclones with their only losses of the season, providing valuable teaching points.

“It’s a painful lesson, sometimes, when you have to learn that way, but I thought our guys really responded,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “And that’s the thing I’m most proud of with our guys: the week of practice we had (last week). They came to work every day and we got better. ... And it showed in our game against a very talented, physical BYU team.”

The Cyclones drilled the perennially NCAA Tournament-bound Cougars 83-62 Sunday, prompting high praise from the losing coach.

When asked how ISU compared to the other teams BYU had lost to — including Notre Dame, which beat defending national champion Kentucky by 14 points — Cougars coach Dave Rose said this:

“They’re in the same category, maybe even better,” Rose said. “They’re talent is really difficult to defend because of how they spread you out and they all have skill where they can shoot from the perimeter. Then (Hoiberg) has guys that can come off the bench and score. I really like his team.”

That starts on the glass.

Ejim’s the bread and butter guy.

Guards such as Tyrus McGee and Chris Babb also mix it up in the paint, as do frontcourt players such as Anthony Booker, Percy Gibson and Georges Niang.

“Our guys are very committed right now as far as going to the boards, both offensively and defensively,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not something where they’re going 50 percent of the time. For the most part, we’re getting after it every single time down the floor.”

Recently-named Big 12 rookie of the week Will Clyburn’s key to the accomplished glass work, as well.

He’s just behind Ejim at 8.6 boards per game.

But wait — “rookie of the week” for a fifth-year senior?

“It’s kind of funny,” said Clyburn, who is a Big 12 rookie because he transferred in after playing two seasons at Utah.

No one’s laughing at the visiting Eagles, who dumped Miami (Fla.) early this season.

The Hurricanes went on to beat Michigan State last week.

“They’ve always got four guys in the floor that can shoot it, so that’s a big challenge for us,” Hoiberg said.

Rebounding has not been — to Hoiberg’s, and the team’s, surprise.

“Going into the season I thought, ‘Man, we’d better rebound or we’re going to get killed,’” said Ejim, who leads the Big 12 in the category. “It’s worked out for us.”

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