IOWA CITY, Ia. – This Monday night was about big-man free throws: Gabe Olaseni, a career high. Aaron White, a career record.
In the end, it wasn't the prettiest of Hawkeye wins. But when a snowstorm keeps Carver-Hawkeye Arena less than half full and your starting backcourt scores two points, you gladly take a Big Ten Conference victory – 70-59 over Nebraska in this case – and move on.
And so, the Hawkeyes are 2-0 in Big Ten Conference play for the first time since the 2002-03 season, with Michigan State coming to town Thursday.
"Every win in this league is so hard, especially this year," coach Fran McCaffery said after Iowa won while shooting 38.6 percent. "You look at every game, there's just not going to be one that's easy.
Olaseni makes 12-of-13 free throws in win over Cornhuskers.
"Every game is going to be unique, whether it be a grind‑it game, a more wide‑open game, more free throws, less free throws, more threes, less threes, unsung heroes. It's going to be that kind of season."
On this night, Olaseni was the hero. He comes off the bench, yet Monday he had 11 of Iowa's first 20 points.
For the night, he attempted only five shots but made 12 of 13 free throws in scoring a career-high 18 points against a Nebraska team that has been playing short-handed in the post all season.
"One of the keys to the game was definitely get the ball inside more," the 6-foot-10 senior from London said.
And draw fouls. Olaseni has been watching film with coaches to work on his post-up game. Monday, he was calling for the ball regularly.
"When I was posting up (on film), I wasn't really posting up," Olaseni said. "I was posting up air, like a position. I'm really trying to get low, make quick decisions."
Though Olaseni was a force inside, Iowa struggled from outside – until it really counted.
White has 23 points, nine rebounds against Nebraska
Jarrod Uthoff and Anthony Clemmons hit clutch back-to-back 3s after Nebraska had taken a 51-50 lead on two Shavon Shields free throws.
That pushed Iowa to a 56-53 edge, and White followed with five consecutive points – two free throws (shock) and his sixth 3-pointer of the year to push the advantage to 61-54 with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left.
And finally the fans that braved the snow-covered roads could finally begin to exhale.
"They get 11 points in four possessions in a low-scoring battle like that," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, "and that's hard to overcome."
White finished with 23 points to lead Iowa, and Uthoff added 15. The Hawkeyes are back here at 6 p.m. Thursday – presumably in front of a full house, since only 400 tickets were available as of Monday – against the Spartans.
"3-0 in the league looks a lot better than 2-1," said White, a senior who has never beaten Michigan State. "We've just got to keep fighting, man. Tough league."
White's 527 career free throws unmatched at Iowa
Iowa made 31 free throws for the night, 12 by White on 15 attempts – which put him alone in Hawkeye history. He needed four to tie Roy Marble's career mark of 516 free throws set from 1986-89. White got his fifth on a very typical White three-point play with 52 seconds left in the first half, a flailing layup while drawing Jake Hammond's third foul.
It's a good thing the Hawkeyes were getting to the line, because for a while they weren't hitting from anywhere else. They made only two baskets in the first 10-plus minutes, allowing a Nebraska team that lost its Big Ten opener at home to Indiana to hang tight. It was 15-15 until Uthoff hit a 3-pointer that looked like a bad miss, but it deadened where the back iron and glass meet and dropped into the hoop.
"I don't know how, but it went in," Uthoff said, laughing. "I thought it was off. I don't think I've ever made a shot like that."
The Hawkeyes (11-4) will likely have to get more production from their backcourt to slay the Spartans, who have beaten Iowa 13 of the last 14 meetings. Mike Gesell's only two points came in the final minute on free throws, and starter Peter Jok and top backup Josh Oglesby went scoreless.
Shields scored 25 points as Nebraska fell to 8-6 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers were shooting 22-for-38 (58.3 percent) until missing their final 10 shots.
Nebraska's Terran Petteway, the returning Big Ten scoring champion, suffered a shin bruise in the first half and scored 11 points in 37 minutes.