In a game that was billed as the biggest non-conference game in the history of Hilton Coliseum, both Iowa State and No. 7 Michigan received pre-game boosts in the form of the return of their most important big men. Mitch McGary would make his season debut for the Wolverines, and senior power forward Melvin Ejim would do the same for the Cyclones.
Both had significant impacts on the outcome, but in the end Iowa State’s balance made the difference in their 77-70 victory. Ejim finished the game with a game-high 22 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals, leading five Iowa State players in double figures. And while neither team shot the ball well from beyond the arc (Michigan: 8-for-29, Iowa State: 6-for-20) Iowa State was plus-9 in points from the foul line (13-4).
The contributions came from multiple players for Fred Hoiberg, and given how much the Cyclones lost from last season’s squad that will need to be the case as the season wears on even with Ejim back in the fold. Dustin Hogue posted the first double-double of his career with 12 points and ten rebounds, and through three games the Indian Hills CC transfer is averaging 11.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest. And sophomore guard Naz Long, who played 6.9 minutes per game as a freshman last season, continued his hot start to the season with 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting (4-for-6 3PT).
Iowa State isn’t the deepest team around, with the rotation consisting of just seven players. But the Cyclones have seven players talented enough to contribute in some form on a nightly basis. Ejim, sophomore forward Georges Niang (ten points, six rebounds) and senior guard DeAndre Kane (13 points, six assists and five rebounds) are the names most will recognize but it takes more than three players to experience success against top competition in both non-conference and Big 12 play.
Ejim’s return (and how productive he was) will receive the majority of the headlines, and that’s understandable. But looking at the result with the long-term in mind, the fact that Ejim wasn’t required to do all of the heavy lifting in his first game back bodes well for the Cyclones.