AMES, Iowa (AP) — Three straight losses and the distraction caused by the ongoing Bubu Palo saga left No. 16 Iowa State in desperate need of some good news.
A close win over a ranked opponent was a good place for the Cyclones to start.
Melvin Ejim scored 20 points and Iowa State beat No. 22 Kansas State 81-75 on Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak and get back to .500 in the Big 12.
"I wanted to see how our guys responded, and we had as good a week of practice as we've had all year," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Guys put those losses behind us. They wanted to come out and win in the worst way."
Georges Niang had 18 points and freshman Matt Thomas matched a career high with 14 for the Cyclones (15-3, 3-3 Big 12), who blew a 12-point halftime lead before putting the game away late in the second half.
Ejim blocked a potential game-tying 3 from Shane Southwell and hit two free throws to put the Cyclones ahead 79-73 with 23 seconds left.
Freshman Marcus Foster scored 20 points for Kansas State (14-6, 4-3), which lost consecutive games for the first time since November.
Thomas Gipson had just four points for the Wildcats.
"We had our opportunities. Again, we battled. They're a good team. We knew it would be tough to win here after they had lost three in a row," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.
Kansas State spent much of the afternoon allowing Iowa State to make a run and then matching it.
In the end, the Wildcats were just a couple of plays short.
Kansas State needed less than 7 minutes to erase a 46-34 first-half deficit, but Iowa State's inconsistent defense let it down. The Cyclones allowed nine points in 2 minutes, and Will Spradling's 3 tied it at 66-all with 5 minutes left.
Niang answered with a crucial 3, and Cyclones star DeAndre Kane shook off a sluggish game with a three-point play to put Iowa State ahead 72-66.
Kane finished with 10 points — his lowest total since mid-December — after shooting 3 of 12 for the second straight game.