IOWA CITY — This was winning, a struggling player and a trusting coach.
Fran McCaffery could have buried Josh Oglesby on the Iowa basketball bench and wouldn’t have been condemned for it. When a shooter isn’t making his shots, he becomes a liability.
But Cedar Rapids’ Oglesby can make shots. As a freshman last year, he sank 45 threes and made 37.2 percent of his tries from that distance. He averaged 6.4 points. He clearly was an integral piece of McCaffery’s foundation.
This year, though, he had gone from lukewarm to cold to icy. Before the Hawkeyes’ 63-55 victory over Illinois Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Oglesby had been 16-of-70 in threes for a poor 22 percent.
The Brusts and Burkes and Byrds of the Big Ten make 37, 38, 39 percent of their 3-pointers in league games. Five players are over 41 percent. Iowa’s shooter, its player designated as its top outside threat entering this season, was nowhere in that league.
But as fewer and fewer people may have been willing to believe it, McCaffery kept telling us Oglesby was an asset.
The kid was all right Tuesday, even after he missed his first four 3-pointers.
Illinois was on a 5-0 run to pull within 48-46 with 4:45 left. Devyn Marble missed a jumper for the Hawkeyes, but the Illini didn’t collar the carom, and Marble tracked down the long rebound in the backcourt. He quickly fed Oglesby, who didn’t tighten up before releasing his fifth three of the game. Swish.
Brandon Paul missed a three at the Illinois end, Marble rebounded, brought the ball downcourt quickly, and fed an open Oglesby near the baseline. No hesitation. Nothing but net. Six points in 42 seconds, and a crowd going crazy.
It was 54-46, and Illinois called a timeout. Oglesby’s teammates bounced out to him on the court to show how happy they were for him. Gabe Olaseni, a fellow sophomore who had a monster defensive game with six blocked shots, had hugs for Oglesby during that timeout and again after the game.
“About time!” Olaseni playfully told Oglesby at the time.
“He works so hard,” Olaseni said after the game. Which is what McCaffery says.
“Everybody knows he’s struggling,” said McCaffery. (His teammates) see him working hard, see him coming in and getting extra work in, seeing what he does in practice. When I tell you he kills it in practice, he absolutely kills it.
“It’s just a matter of time. He’s done it this year in games. He just hasn’t done it as much as he would like or as we thought.”
But though Oglesby’s scoring has dropped this year, he’s become a better player. His passing has been good, his defense is much-improved, and he doesn’t make many turnovers.
“I’ve felt pretty good about my floor game,” he said. “I’ve really tried to emphasize my defense.”
But shooters are exposed to the world. Even the most casual fans are fully aware when a shooter is misfiring.
“I obviously feel capable I can play in this league,” Oglesby said. “I thought my freshman year I played pretty well. I’ve had a rough sophomore year.”
But on Tuesday, Oglesby was a postgame interview subject for the Big Ten Network. Even better, he got a big hug from his coach.
“Keep believing, keep shooting,” Oglesby said. “Coach has told me that all year. ... Fran’s the man.”
McCaffery didn’t hesitate to have Oglesby on the court down the stretch. Marble didn’t hesitate to get Oglesby the ball. Oglesby didn’t hesitate to hit the two biggest shots of the game.
He who hesitates is lost. This was winning, a struggling player and a trusting coach.