DES MOINES — Melvin Ejim’s Wells Fargo Arena magic lives.
It simply took the Iowa State forward a half to re-conjure it.
Ejim surged for 20 of his points in the final 25 minutes of Saturday’s pulse-pounding Big Four Classic game against Northern Iowa.
Yes, 25 minutes, not 20.
It was that kind of game — a “classic” that featured wild momentum swings, a banked in 3, several heroic performances and, ultimately, a stirring Cyclone comeback from an 18-point second half deficit.
The final: No. 17 ISU 91, hard-luck UNI 82 in overtime.
The storylines: Too numerous to form a coherent plot structure.
“Guys, especially me, you could see that our body language was down and we needed to turn it up,” said Ejim, who scored a team high-tying 22 to push his total to 65 points in three career games at Wells Fargo Arena. “Once we started doing that we started playing really well.”
The Cyclones (7-0) forged a 23-2 run to take a 54-51 lead on Ejim’s alley-lop slam from DeAndre Kane with 9:05 left.
The Panthers (3-5) answered with a 7-0 spurt fueled by five points from Nate Buss, who finished with a career high-tying 23 points off the bench.
Then ISU responded, reeling off an 11-1 run capped by one of the signature plays of the game.
The Cyclones’ Georges Niang blocked a 3-point attempt by UNI’s Chip Rank, grabbed the rebound and lofted a three-quarters court strike to Ejim for a layup that made the score 65-59 with 3:41 left.
“I saw Melvin, a.k.a. Usain Bolt, jetting to the hoop so I figured I’d try my best Tom Brady impression and get him the ball,” said Niang, who scored a career-high 22 points before fouling out late in regulation. “He running the court hard, so when guys run the court hard you try to get it to them. It was sort of a lucky play.”
ISU held a 71-68 lead with 15 seconds left and the Panthers couldn’t find a good look.
Big man Seth Tuttle, well defended, launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
It struck glass, then tumbled through the net at the buzzer.
“I’m sick of seeing banked in 3s at the end of games, I’ll tell you that,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team lost twice last season when banked-in long-range baskets proved key.
But a tense overtime — despite Niang’s absence — belonged to the Cyclones, who became the fourth team in program history to come back from an 18-point second-half deficit.
Ejim drained one of his four 3-pointers with 2:05 left to give ISU a 79-75 lead.
Forty-five seconds later he drilled another one after a Dustin Hogue offensive rebound.
“That was one of those no, no, no, yes deals,” said Hoiberg, who wanted to see more clock disappear.
ISU also got double-doubles from Hogue (17 points, 14 rebounds) and DeAndre Kane (18, 10).
Former Washington standout Wes Washpun scored a career-high 18 points for the Panthers.
“We have an opportunity to have a terrific season,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “That opportunity still stands after this basketball game.”
Same goes for ISU, which is off to its best start since 2003-04.
“We were able to show our resolve,” Ejim said.
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