Big night for Taine Murray: Freshman earns minutes with effort in Iowa loss
Taine Murray had gotten garbage-time minutes, when he got any minutes, in Virginia’s last four games – three minutes each in the wins over Coppin State and Lehigh.
The 6’5” freshman four-star recruit had fallen behind sophomore walk-on Malachi Poindexter on the depth chart.
Murray’s productivity in Monday’s 75-74 loss to Iowa – 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 4-of-6 from three, in 21 minutes – will move him up the depth chart.
“He’s tough, gritty, not perfect, but plays hard and is not afraid of the moment,” said UVA coach Tony Bennett, who had Murray on the floor for the key minutes down the stretch, and was rewarded with Murray scoring 11 points in the second half, eight in the final four minutes, including two huge threes, the second of which gave Virginia a 71-70 lead with 1:36 to go, and nearly tore the roof off the John Paul Jones Arena.
Bennett had made the point after the Coppin State game that he had decided to reward Poindexter with minutes off the bench because of his hard work in practice, leaving unsaid what he was trying to get across – that Murray, fellow freshman Igor Milicic Jr. and sophomore Carson McCorkle, another four-star recruit, weren’t getting minutes because they weren’t working as hard.
Murray had no problem with that. His response: to roll up his sleeves and work harder.
“I put a lot of trust in the coaching staff, and you know, they make great decisions. I always try to be ready, so it was I was really fortunate to get the minutes tonight and be able to help this team,” Murray said.
Murray, like Milicic, is having to adjust to the U.S. game after coming up as a player overseas, in Murray’s case, in New Zealand.
The international game is more free-flowing; the U.S. game, more physical.
“I think, first of all, regardless of the basket, just finding my way away from home, obviously, far away across the world from back in New Zealand,” Murray said. “Basketball-wise, defensively I’m learning a lot. Obviously, the Pack Line is a great defense, and one that I’m continuing to learn for sure. Offensively, you know, the shot clock is a lot longer here. I’m used to 24 seconds, so just taking care of the ball, and you’re fighting for a chance to win.”
There’s still some work to do on the defensive end, but that’s not for lack of gumption.
“He’ll have ups and downs, as all the guys do, but he’s a hard-nosed tough, young man,” Bennett said. “He’s sat on the bench. He’s about the right stuff. I thought I’ve given different guys different chances, and guys will get opportunities, but you can’t play this game, as we used to say, in a tuxedo. You’ve got to play it, you’ve got to show up ready. It’s got to be in your eyes, it’s got to be in your mind, and it’s got to be in your heart. When that’s lacking, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
“I thought he’s a tough Kiwi. Jack Salt would have been proud of him tonight.”
Story by Chris Graham