On Saturday night, the Longhorns found a way to slow down the Big 12’s second leading scorer, Juwan Staten, en route to a victory over West Virginia. Three days later, they’ll have to stop the only man ahead of Staten if they want the same result.
Senior forward Melvin Ejim — who averages a conference-best 18.9 points per game — and his No. 17 Iowa State Cyclones welcome No. 19 Texas to Ames for a top-25 matchup at Hilton Coliseum tonight.
“[Ejim’s] a scary guy,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “He’s put up some unbelievable numbers. He’s been one of those guys that has had an incredible impact on their program.”
Unlike Staten, a true point guard who was defended by Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor, Ejim plays on the wing and will likely be guarded by Texas’ defensive specialist, Demarcus Holland. Holland’s athleticism and deceptive length should help slow down Ejim, who can score from anywhere on the floor.
Ejim was effective in Iowa State’s 86-76 loss at the Frank Erwin Center last month. The Canadian player had a double-double with 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 10 rebounds.
But the Longhorns’ team defense has improved significantly since the last time these two teams met, and, if Texas’ most recent performance is any indication, Ejim could be in for a long night.
“Our defense has been the most improved aspect of our game,” Barnes said. “We’ve stopped fouling as much. We still have some things to work on, but it’s getting better.”
Offensively, the Longhorns will once again rely on their size and strength inside to overwhelm Iowa State’s undersized front court. Junior forward Jonathan Holmes and sophomore center Cameron Ridley combined for 39 points and seven offensive boards in the first meeting. Those two, combined with Holland’s defensive work ethic, have been the key to the Longhorns’ rebounding success.
“The length has a lot to do with [the rebounding],” Barnes said. “You’ve also got two guys — in Jonathan Holmes and Demarcus Holland — who put in tremendous effort. That kind of effort is what gets us the extra possessions that we need.”