It has not been the season Josh Oglesby had envisioned when the year began back in November.
Many fans have given up on him. And he may even have lost a little bit of confidence in jump shot. But the sophomore sharpshooter found a way to redeem himself if only for one night on Tuesday after he buried back-to-back triples in the final 4 minutes to give Iowa the cushion it needed against rival Illinois.
Those six points helped Oglesby get to double-digits and his 10 points in 24 minutes was a big reason the Hawkeyes were able to knock off NCAA Tournament-bound Illinois, 63-55, in front of 14,566 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Everyone on the team knows he is struggling,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said of the way the players rushed to Oglesby after he made the two biggest shots of his season. “They see him working hard, see him coming in and getting extra work in. When I tell you he kills it in practice, he kills it in practice. It was just a matter of time.”
Roy Devyn Marble also contributed a game-high 21 points in the win, including a 10-for-10 performance from the foul line. He is now just two points shy of 1,000 career points and the Hawkeyes are one game shy of their first 20-win season since Steve Alford was the coach in Iowa City.
“He was especially good tonight with controlling the tempo,” McCaffery said of Marble. “I thought he played with great energy level. I took him out of the game some because I thought he was going to have a lot of pressure on him the last six or seven minutes. He was strong for the finish, and that was good.”
At 21-10, and with wins over Gonzaga and Indiana this year, the Fighting Illini are likely going to be dancing later this month. That is why it was so difficult for the Hawkeyes to put them away.
Illinois, which fell even with Iowa at 8-9 in conference play, rallied from double-digit deficits multiple times in the game. The Fighting Illinois made nine 3-pointers in the loss but shot only 29 percent from the floor and was only 10-of-17 from the line.
Iowa improved to 26-0 in the past three seasons when holding an opponent to fewer than 60 points and is 15-2 at home this year.
“The defense was spectacular early,” McCaffery said. “It was a little disturbing though that we held them to 26 percent shooting in the first half but we were only up three.”
The win over another top Big Ten program was nice, but Iowa still has plenty of work to do to secure an NCAA Tournament berth. Many still believe the Hawkeyes need to win the Big Ten Tournament to get in. Others feel like a win against Nebraska at home to end the season and a win in the Big Ten tourney should be enough.
That last scenario would put Iowa at 21-11 overall and 9-9 in the toughest conference in America.
Marble and Oglesby were the only two Hawkeyes in double-figures on Tuesday, but several other Hawkeyes impacted the game.
Freshman Adam Woodbury finished with eight points, five rebounds and two blocks, while sophomore Gabe Olaseni swatted away six shots. The Hawkeyes blocked 12 shots in the game. Aaron White had a tough shooting night but still came up with seven points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks.
The Hawkeyes won the battle on the boards, had 16 more points in the paint and was plus-11 in bench points, led by Oglesby’s 10 and Anthony Clemmons’ five.
Iowa jumped out to a 15-4 lead and still led 22-12 with 6:31 to play until halftime. Illinois though rallied with an 8-0 run led by Tracy Abrams and Brandon Paul.
Neither team gained much of an advantage the rest of the way in the first half, but Iowa did lead by three at the break after Zach McCabe scored on a putback with 1 second on the clock.
Marble put in 17 of his 21 points in the second half. His 3-pointer in the opening minutes gave Iowa an eight-point lead and then two free throws followed by a three-point lead extended the advantage back to 10 with 13:53 to play in the game.
But again, Illinois wouldn’t go away quietly. Consecutive triples by D.J. Richardson and Paul cut the lead to five and then a layup by Richardson made it 42-39 with 7:35 left.
Paul, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, hit two freebies to get the Fighting Illini to within two with 4:45 to play.
That is when Oglesby’s number was called, and the Cedar Rapids native picked up and answered. His two treys during a span of 42 seconds were enough to send the Hawkeyes to a win. Eight of his 10 points came in the second half.
“Every time he shoots it, I think it is going in,” McCaffery said. “I think he does, too. He told me at halftime that the shots felt good, so I told him to just keep shooting and we’ll keep coming to you.”
The closest Illinois got the rest of the way was six after a 3-pointer by Richardson, who finished with 13 points in the loss.
Iowa remains in a must-win situation this weekend when the Hawkeyes host Nebraska at 1:21 p.m. Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes had a big lead on the Cornhuskers in Lincoln earlier this year before Nebraska rallied in the final minute.
Marble led the team in scoring for the seventh straight game and is now averaging 19.3 points per game in those seven games. … When Marble reaches 1,000 career points, he and his father Roy Marble Sr. will be the first father-son duo to both eclipse that milestone. … Oglesby reached double figures for the sixth time this season. … The 12 shot blocks tied a school record. Olaseni’s six blocks is a career-high.