Since the Big 12's inaugural 1996-97 basketball season, it has produced three Wooden Award winners and 11 top-five NBA Draft picks.
Luminaries like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce — who does not fit any of the above criteria — Michael Beasley, T.J. Ford and Marcus Fizer, just to name a few, have chopped it up in gyms from Ames to Austin. None of them did what Melvin Ejim did Saturday in an 84-69 win against TCU at Hilton.
No player in college basketball, not just the Big 12, has achieved minimums of 45 points, 18 rebounds and 80-percent shooting in a game since at least 1996.
"The fact that it's a Big 12 record, there've been some pretty special players who've gone through this league," Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said.
"One of my first games I ever scouted [in front office with T'Wolves] was Texas at Colorado and Kevin Durant dropped [37 and 16]. For a guy like Durant, Blake Griffin and all the great players who've ever gone through this league … Melvin Ejim's name is at the top for points. That's unbelievable for a guy who doesn't get as much credit as he deserves."
Iowa State (18-4, 6-4 Big 12) pulled away in the closing minutes of the second half despite the best efforts of TCU (9-13, 0-10). The No. 16 Cyclones admitted to scoreboard-watching well before then, excusable for Hoiberg because the situation never seemed precarious.
"It was like nine minutes to go and I caught him looking up at the scoreboard and I was like, 'What's he lookin' at?'" said Georges Niang. "And he had 35 and there were like nine minutes to go and I was like, 'Holy smoke, this could be a crazy night.' And I made it a point to get him the ball."
Given a full week to prepare for TCU's 2-3 zone, Iowa State installed new actions, making the lob a fulcrum of its offensive sets. Ejim hovered along the baseline, waiting for DeAndre Kane or another teammate to crash into the lane. The man responsible for keying Ejim in the zone would push up toward the ball, opening up a passing lane.
The Cyclones assisted on 27 of 32 made field goals, to 11 turnovers.
Per CBSSports game tracking data, Ejim flushed down seven dunks and finished eight layups, his only misses on mid-range jumpers (5-from-9).
"He's a great finisher on those types of plays," Hoiberg said. "More often than not [TCU collapsed on the ball]. Melvin was the recipient when his guy went to help."
With 20 seconds left, Ejim was removed from the game to a standing ovation, which he pinpoints as the moment he knew something special had happened.
"It was a great feeling," he said. "Hilton Magic was loud and Cyclone Alley was great. But it was all about my teammates, they really looked out for me."
After missing ISU's first two games with a knee injury, Ejim has scored in double figures in all 20 appearances. The 48 points today, which doubled his career high, raised his season average to 19.8 per contest, padding his comfortable lead in the Big 12's scoring race. And in the last three games, two against ranked opponents, Ejim has recorded a double-double in each.
One year, it's rebounding and double-doubles Ejim leads the league in. The next, it's points. With eight regular season games left, Ejim has pole position for the Big 12's Player of the Year Award. It's safe to say the "underrated" label will soon vanish.
"It's good to see your hard work has paid off," Ejim said. "Hours you've put in the gym over the summer have paid off."