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‘Just play basketball’: Omaha Biliew focuses up, plays free in win over Grambling State

Jacob Rice
Freshman forward Omaha Biliew sticks his tongue out while sitting on the court after a layup attempt during the ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023.

AMES — With five Cyclones hitting the double-digit point mark in the 92-37 win over Grambling State, it is hard to point fingers at who had the biggest impact on the night.

The offense as a whole clicked all night long, as shots were falling from everywhere and explosive plays were happening on the regular. The defense was also locking Grambling State down on every possession.

However, the ability to adapt was a big factor in the 55-point victory, and the player that showed his willingness to adapt the most was true freshman Omaha Biliew.

With Hason Ward missing the game, and the rest of the non-conference season, with a foot injury, someone had to step up. Biliew took it upon himself to fill some of that role.

“It gives us an edge coming out to every game, playing hard for him,” Biliew said. “Personally, that’s my guy too. That’s our guy. So I’m coming out to play hard for him.”

From the first minutes he saw Sunday afternoon, it was clear that Biliew was going to play hard. That started mostly on the defensive end of the court.

Biliew talked about his “high motor,” which showed up on offense, as he powered his way to a bucket early in the game. However, that motor showed through the most on defense.

“It all starts on the defensive end. I think that’s where [Biliew’s] game started tonight,” Tamin Lipsey said. “Just locking down and being locked in on defense.”

Biliew was not just locked in on defense, he was locked in all over the court. Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said that Biliew did well because of how locked in he was.

Freshman forward Omaha Biliew shoots a free throw during the ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023. (Jacob Rice)

Biliew entered the week ready to play and ready to do well. There was almost something different about Biliew going into the matchup.

“He had a look in his eye,” Otzelberger said. “An intent.”

Otzelberger talked about how focused Biliew was throughout the week. He was a different player at practice and shootarounds.

Biliew was not caught up in the idea of playing at Hilton as a Cyclone anymore, he was ready to get to work. He was focused on the job at hand.

“The game slows down when you focus on the right things,” Otzelberger said.

Slowing the game down was the key to Biliew’s success early on. He was efficient on defense, while getting buckets when it mattered.

Biliew had four points at the half. HIs first basket came five minutes into the game, while his second came with less than five minutes left in the half.

Although Biliew was not lighting up the scoreboard, he was making the most of the minutes he had. He was not making sloppy plays or giving up costly fouls. He was playing efficient basketball.

Biliew had struggles playing consistent basketball in the first three games of the season. Although he showed flashes of potential, he was not fully living up to his preseason hype.

However, Biliew never let that get him down. He was still focused on helping the team win any way he could.

“I don’t think everyone always realizes. Part of this is how badly he wants to play well for everybody,” Otzelberger said. “It’s not just himself. He’s not a selfish guy at all.”

Otzelberger said the growth Biliew has seen so far is because of the focus he has shown since game one and his pride in his team. That growth was on display late in the first half.

Biliew slipped past defenders and put up a sneaky layup to end his first half scoring. The play appeared to flow well for Biliew, as he looked to be viewing the game in slow motion.

“I feel like the game slowed down for me,” Biliew said.

It was not until the second half that Biliew started to take off.

Biliew had back-to-back possessions with buckets six minutes into the second half. He hit his free throw after picking up a foul while driving to the rim.

Biliew was starting to score from everywhere in the paint. Biliew even broke into double figures later in the game.

As Curtis Jones’ 3-pointer bricked off the rim, Keshon Gilbert got a second chance at a bucket.

When Gilbert’s shot would not fall, it was Biliew that scooped the ball up while it was falling off the rim and slammed it home. Hilton exploded in cheers as the true freshman got up to 11 points, the most in his young collegiate career.

Freshman forward Omaha Biliew goes for a layup as Grambling State Jalen Johnson falls toward the media seating. ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023. (Jacob Rice)

“[He was] making a lot of energy plays that just helps our team a lot,” Lipsey said.

Shortly after, Biliew did it again. He received a pass from Milan Momcilovic while driving from the corner for another dunk. Biliew found himself tied for the second most points in the game.

With Iowa State’s offense firing on all cylinders, the game was looking grim for Grambling State.

The Cyclones led by nearly 50 points with over eight minutes left in the game. That lead just kept growing from there, even with the starters, and Biliew, getting a chance to rest.

Biliew finished the game shooting 6-for-7 from the field, while making two free throws. His 14 points was the second most on the team and tied for the most from a player coming off the bench.

Biliew also tacked on three rebounds, as his efforts paid off on both sides of the court. The true freshman finally had the game he was looking for all season long.

“[The coaching staff] always elaborate every day just to play free. Play simple,” Biliew said. “Cut when you need to, and just play basketball.”

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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