Iowa State Cyclones forward Omaha Biliew (33) takes as Grambling State guard Jimel Cofer (1) and 10Grambling State forward Jonathan Aku (12) defend during the second half in the NCAA men’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES —Omaha Biliew finally missed a free throw.
Other than that, the dynamic Iowa State freshman forward starred on both ends of the floor Sunday against Grambling, scoring a career-high 14 points in the Cyclones’ 92-37 win at Hilton Coliseum.
“I feel like the game slowed down for me,” the 6-8 McDonald’s All-American said. “Just keeping the game simple. The coaching staff, they always (say) every day, ‘Just play free, play simple, cut when you need to, just play basketball.’”
Biliew went 6-for-7 from the field and jammed through an emphatic putback dunk as ISU improved to 4-0. He added one steal and is 8 of 9 from the free throw line in what’s been limited duty this season. That looks to change for the foreseeable future, as starting senior forward Hason Ward suffered a stress reaction in his left foot that will keep him out of the lineup until at least January.
“There (are) different ways to go with it,” Cyclone head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “It was his choice to have a screw put in, which gives him the best chance to return this season and be able to play meaningful basketball hopefully in January.”
Ward’s extended absence means Billow’s role will likely expand. Senior big man Robert Jones replaced Ward in the starting lineup, but Biliew played a season-high 20 minutes and added three rebounds and a steal to his sterling stat line.
“I’m more impressed by how he focused at practice,” Otzelberger said. “How his focus was at shoot-around. He had a look in his eye, an intent, for what he wanted to do defensively and on the glass. The game slows down when you focus on the right things and he put his focus on those areas, and he did some great things out there.”
So did the rest of the Cyclones, who steamrolled the Tigers (2-3) with an early 32-2 run and shot 62.7 percent from the field. Grambling, meanwhile, shot just 28.6 percent and turned the ball over 21 times.
“We’re super-connected and it’s gonna take us a long way,” said ISU sophomore point guard Tamin Lipsey, who led his team in points (17) and assists (9). “We come out in the second half just like we do in the first half and that’s something we take pride in. It’s hard for teams to do — to come out with that much energy, but we have a lot of depth and a lot of guys (who) are gonna go out and compete every night.”
Buffalo transfer Curtis Jones joined Biliew in contributing 14 points off the bench, while UNLV transfer Keshon Gilbert and hot-shooting freshman Milan Momcilovic chipped in 13 points apiece. Jones drained three of his six 3-point attempts after starting the season 3-for-17 from long range.
“We’ve talked so much about the rhythm we want him in (as) moving the ball on offense and the guarding and rebounding on defense,” Otzelberger said of Jones. “Similar to Omaha, but different. He focused on those things. The ball is coming off his hand great. He has five assists, zero turnovers. In our program, when you focus on doing effort-based things, when you focus on rebounding, defending, moving the basketball, things seem to go well for you.”
They certainly did for Biliew, whose ceiling is sky high — and his desire to grow may ascend to even greater heights.
“Part of this is how badly he wants to play for everybody,” Otzelberger said. “It’s not just himself. He’s not a selfish guy at all. He’s an ‘everybody else’ guy who wants to play great for his family, for his teammates, for those who have invested in him, for the fans here. So, happy for him to have that moment.”