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Luke Meredith | The Associated Press | February 22, 2014

No. 17 Iowa State shows improved post play, strong defense against big men

AMES, Iowa -- Last month, Texas forward Jonathan Holmes and center Cameron Ridley exploited Iowa State's lack of interior size and punished the smaller Cyclones.

The way Iowa State responded in the rematch proved it can handle imposing frontcourts.

Holmes and Ridley, who combined for 39 points and 18 rebounds in the Longhorns' 86-76 win on Jan. 18, were limited to just 18 and 14 in the Cyclones' 85-76 win on Tuesday night.

Iowa State held Texas, one of the Big 12's top frontcourts, to just 18 points in the paint while relying on turnovers and transition offense to get 40 points of its own inside.

The Cyclones (20-5, 8-5 Big 12) travel to face TCU (9-16, 0-13) on Saturday.

''Coach [Fred Hoiberg] draws up great defensive schemes to help us handle these bigger guys,'' Iowa State forward Georges Niang said.

That hasn't always been easy.

The Cyclones don't have a traditional center that Hoiberg trusts to play significant minutes, and that has cost them at times during Big 12 play.

Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim reaches up for the ball after Texas forward Jonathan Holmes blocked h …

But Iowa State has shown it can compensate with impressive athleticism and a commitment to team defense.

Iowa State's main interior threats, forwards Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue, aren't built like classic post presences at 6-foot-6 and roughly 220 pounds apiece. But Ejim and Hogue also share a knack for outmaneuvering bigger opponents for dunks, easy layups and long rebounds.

Ejim leads the Big 12 in scoring at 19.1 points a game on 52.7 percent shooting. He led the Big 12 in rebounding last season and is currently second at 8.6 a game.

While Hogue isn't quite the scorer Ejim is, he's right behind his more publicized teammate with 8.5 rebounds a game.

The two have engaged in a playful competition for the league rebounding title since November, and their intensity on the glass appears to have rubbed off on their teammates.

''It's definitely important for guys like me and Dustin, guys that rebound well on the team, to initiate the rebounding. And then everyone comes in,'' Ejim said. ''It sparks us as a team.''

The closest thing the Cyclones have to a starting center is 6-foot-7 Georges Niang.

But Niang's offensive game is more focused on shooting 3s and beating opponents off the dribble that relying on simple post moves.

Niang doesn't rebound as well as Ejim or Niang either. But his interior defense has improved as the year has gone along, and on Tuesday he keyed an effort that held the 285-pound Ridley without a field goal.

The Cyclones have also gotten a lot of assistance inside from DeAndre Kane, an alert help defender whose 6.6 rebounds a game rank among the best nationally for a point guard.

''I thought Georges just absolutely battled the heck out of him. He did an unbelievable job,'' Hoiberg said. ''Our double teams were much better on him this time. Last time he split us, he got to the rim before the double team got there. Our angles were better as far as getting down there, and our hands were more active.''

Iowa State has a pair of traditional big men in Daniel Edozie and Percy Gibson. But they've been relegated to spot duty at best.

Hoiberg has instead settled on a seven-man rotation that's smaller than many of Iowa State's opponents. But the win against Texas, the Big 12's leader in rebounding and blocked shots, showed that the Cyclones are versatile enough to overcome their lack of size.

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