Iowa sophomore center Gabe Olaseni notched career highs in minutes (19), rebounds (10) and blocks (four) against South Carolina State on Wednesday. Olaseni, a 6-foot-10 native of London, provided the game’s highlight reel play, blocking a shot with less than four minutes remaining.
After stealing a pass near mid-court, South Carolina State’s Phillip Henry streaked toward a open layup or dunk. Out of nowhere Olaseni met Henry at the rim, slapped the ball into the stands and hit his hand on the backboard.
“I try not to think too much when I’m out there and good things happen,” Olaseni said. “So don’t let him score and whether he tries to dunk it or not, I’m going to go after it.”
“That’s as good a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “Not a lot of guys can do that.”
Olaseni’s confidence level has fluctuated based on his immediate performance. His teammates and coaches have raved about his performances in practice. But his confidence has waned during games, especially after a turnover or a foul.
“He’s in the right place more often than he was,” McCaffery said. “It used to be if he wasn’t in the right place, he would get down on himself, even though we told him, ‘Don’t get down on yourself. You’re fine. You’re going to make a mistake and be in the wrong place.’
“But his foot work, and his spacing, and his understanding of where to be, whether we’re running motion or whether we’re in sets, defensively whether we’re pressing or not pressing, he just seems to be in the right place more often. What ends up happening is he makes plays instead of mistakes, and his confidence grows, and that’s what you want.”
Olaseni made only one of four shots from the floor, but he was 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. Four of his rebounds were offensive, and he added two steals.
“I’m just trying to be an energy guy, a multiple-effort guy,” Olaseni said.
“I’m seeing plays ahead of time. I’m understanding what it takes to win. I’m understanding what I have to do every time I’m on the floor.”
Olaseni played almost effortlessly and fearlessly against South Carolina State, which impressed his teammates.
“He’s my guy,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “That’s always been the thing with him, getting comfortable on the floor, playing relaxed. He’s so talented and he’s so athletic when he just lets it come to him, that’s when he actually plays well. He’s blocking shots, he had 10 boards. He’s finishing down low. So he’s playing well.”
Iowa sophomore guard Josh Oglesby didn’t play Wednesday after suffering a mild shoulder injury. McCaffery said Oglesby should be able to play on Saturday.
“I thought (Tuesday) that he would have been able to play, but he couldn’t,” McCaffery said.
Oglesby had led the team with 17 3-pointers before the game. He now ranks second behind Devyn Marble (20).
FRESHMEN NOTCH CAREER HIGHS
Freshman Mike Gesell, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week, produced his second straight solid performance with a career-best eight assists to only one turnover. Gesell also scored five points, pulled down six rebounds and grabbed three steals in 19 minutes. Last Saturday, Gesell scored 23 points against Northern Iowa.
Gesell said he still considers himself a point guard despite starting the last five games at off-guard alongside Anthony Clemmons. Gesell is productive at either position, McCaffery said.
“I do think playing him at the two does make him more aggressive offensively,” McCaffery said. “He’s not as aggressive at the one as I would like him to be. But I appreciate the fact that he wants to set people up and get us into our stuff. So I like that mixture for him. I think it works for him and works for us.”
Freshman center Adam Woodbury rebounded from a one-point performance against Northern Iowa to grab a career-high nine rebounds. Woodbury also scored six points and was 3-of-4 from the field.
Clemmons, who has five starts at point guard, is second nationally among freshmen in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.1. He had four points, six assists and two turnovers on Wednesday.
Cedar Rapids native and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson made an appearance at Iowa’s game Wednesday. Johnson, an Iowa football and basketball fan, was able to take a few shots on the court after the game.
Iowa’s 10-2 record is the best 12-game start for Iowa since the 2004-05 season. The Hawkeyes are 8-0 at home this year and seek their first six-game winning streak since December 2004.
Iowa’s next opponent is Coppin State, which is 3-9. The game will be Coppin State’s fifth straight on the road. The Eagles rank 270th in RPI and 338th in field-goal percentage (37.0 percent) out of 347 teams. Coppin State has played one Big Ten school, Indiana, and lost 87-51.