IOWA CITY, Iowa - A sullen Fran McCaffery slowly sat down at his post-game press conference here Wednesday night. The Iowa Coach usually starts off taking question but this time he brought bad news.
McCaffery revealed that his senior center, Gabe Olaseni, lost his father earlier Wednesday back in his London home. The day saw heavy hearts and nobody was sure how it would finish with a game against Northern Illinois on the schedule.
Turns out, the team rallied around Olaseni and he showed impressive determination in scoring 10 points and grabbing five rebounds in a 70-49 Iowa win. McCaffery, naturally, allowed his senior to choose whether or not to play.
"He didn't hesitate," the coach said. "One of the last things his father said was he's so proud of Gabe and he wants him to maximize this opportunity his senior year. His dad didn't want to do anything that would in any way impact his ability to do that. So, I think that made it easier on (Gabe)."
Olaseni delivered a pair of signature dunks in his 20 minutes of action. He also blocked four shots, helping to spearhead a strong defensive effort from the Hawkeyes. NIU shot just 27.9 percent from the floor and turned it over 17 times.
"I think it shows how strong he is," Iowa Center Adam Woodbury said. "If I was in his position, I don't know if I could do what he just did. It just showed the kind of will he had in putting everything behind him and trying to do what's best for the team. I commend him a lot for what he did."
McCaffery said that he and his assistants brought Olaseni into the basketball office Wednesday to Skype with his family. The coach said his senior would return to London at some point in the near future.
"It was fairly unexpected," McCaffery said Benson Olaseni's passing. "He's been sick for a very short period of time. I think it's unexpected that he would have passed when he did. But I think it was getting to the point where he was very sick."
Aaron White, who scored 14 points Wednesday, struggled to talk about his roommate's situation. He answered a few questions and then asked to talk about the game.
On a night when Iowa continued recent struggles on offense, the effort on defense showed a team playing for their teammate.
"I didn't know if anyone would be ready to play today because it was so emotional," said point guard Anthony Clemmons, who scored 14 Wednesday. "I don't know how he did it. I don't know if I could have done it if I lost my father. I give him all the praise for him to be able to take that step and be able to play."
Woodbury scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds. Jarrod Uthoff only netted two points but grabbed six boards, blocked five shots and dished out four assists in the win.
Freshman guard Brady Ellingson saw his first action of the year after undergoing foot surgery this summer.
"I don't know where this is going to end up for him," McCaffery said. "He had a great practice (Tuesday). We'll see if he can tolerate (the pain).
"If not, we'll shut him down, red shirt him. He can play a few games to kind of see if he can tolerate the pain, see where this thing is going."
The Hawkeyes (4-2) return to action Saturday (1 p.m. CT, Mediacom).