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Virginia pushes Iowa to the brink, and builds identity in the process

taine murray
Taine Murray. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Iowa entered Monday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge as the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense, Virginia as expected entered the matchup as the No.4 scoring defense. When push comes to shove, something had to give.

Iowa survived an impressive Virginia comeback to win on a banked in shot off the glass with eight seconds remaining, 75-74. It was the manner in which the game played out that served notice this version of Virginia Cavaliers basketball team may be very intriguing.

Early on, it looked as though the Hawkeyes were going to send the John Paul Jones Arena fans home early and disappointed. Iowa built a 21-point advantage, 40-19, at the 3:39 mark of the first half.

Iowa sank its first three field goals and five of their first six to race out to a 14-6 lead in the half’s first five minutes. Later in the half, the Hawkeyes connected on six of eight field goal attempts, capped by a three-pointer from Jordon Bohannon and an authoritative dunk from Keegan Murray, making it 40-19. Turn out the lights, right? Wrong.

The Cavaliers had other ideas. It wasn’t sudden, more subtle, but Virginia, possession-by possession, quite possibly began to truly define its 2021-22 season.

After the Murray slam, Virginia’s next possession resulted in the shot clock winding down when Kihei Clark connected on a three-pointer from top of the arc. The three, momentarily, at least, stopped the bleeding, at most may have redirected the Cavaliers’ season.

Virginia closed out the half on a modest 8-2 run, but it kept them within striking range of the veteran Hawkeyes at 44-30. After the spectacular offensive effort by the Hawkeyes that included a 15-0 run, to be down only 14 at the break had to a positive for UVA. And it was.

The Cavaliers, paced by Jayden Gardner, who scored eight straight points on a layup and back-to-back threes in the second half, woke up the JPJ gathering. It was Gardner’s first three-point attempts of the year.

A 9-0 UVA run that was sparked by a Kadin Shedrick jam pulled the Cavaliers to within 58-53 as the roof nearly lifted, the loudest the Arena has been since March 2020.

Slowly, Virginia continued to slice into the Iowa lead, until the 1:36 mark of the second half, when UVA took the lead at 71-70. It was the Cavaliers’ first lead in the contest since the game’s opening 90 seconds of play.

Freshman Taine Murray erupted the home fans by draining back-to-back three-pointers. Murray, instantly becoming a JPJ favorite, finished with a season-high 14 points. But Murray had a supporting staff of players that stepped up as well.

UVA finished the game connecting on 30-of-57 from the field, by far their best performance of the season. Reece Beekman finished the game with 11 points on a 5-of-9 showing from the floor. Kihei Clark, performing double duty as usual, chipped in with 15 points on a 6-of-10 night from the floor, including sinking 3-of-4 from behind the line.

The Cavaliers looked dead-in-the-water tonight, but instead refused to allow the visitors to celebrate, at least prematurely, on the JPJ hardwood. They took a good Iowa team to the wire. How good an Iowa team? Good enough for the entire fourth row of the media section to be filled with NBA scouts getting a look at a few Hawkeyes.

So, was it possible for Virginia to lose on the scoreboard and still win the night? We won’t have to wait long for the answer, as UVA opens ACC play Friday night here with Pittsburgh. Probably with a great deal more confidence and optimism they may have had a few hours earlier.

Story by Scott German


augusta free press
augusta free press