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Cavaliers suffer season-ending home loss

Despite Anderson's 24 points, Iowa tops Virginia 75-64 to advance to NIT semifinals

From the moment the Virginia basketball team learned its season would culminate not in its second straight NCAA berth but rather in the NIT, the team set its sights on making the trip to historic Madison Square Garden that had eluded them earlier in the year. Wednesday’s season-ending 75-64 loss to Iowa at John Paul Jones Arena once again snuffed out those hopes, but the result was far more painful this time around.

“Everybody was thinking about getting that opportunity [to play at MSG],” senior guard Jontel Evans said. “We just came up short again.”

Iowa ended Virginia’s record-breaking 2012-13 season with a gutsy performance in front of 11,141 hostile fans, answering each Cavalier rally swiftly. Led by a team-high 24 points by junior guard Roy Devyn Marble, the Hawkeyes became the first road team to win in Charlottesville in more than four months to advance to the NIT semifinals, where they will meet another ACC foe, Maryland.

The Hawkeyes beat the Cavaliers at their own game, winning the hustle stats and playing tenacious defense to wear down Virginia. Iowa outrebounded Virginia 34-26 and scored 24 points in the paint, and benefited from its opponents’ fatigue by taking control down the stretch. Virginia led 41-39 with 13:34 remaining, but the Hawkeyes used a 22-8 run in the next 10 minutes to grab control.

“Playing teams that are real tough is kind of a gut check,” coach Tony Bennett said. “You realize this is what tournament basketball is, desperately trying to advance to something significant, what you need to bring and how it has to be done. There’s some wisdom in that to motivate us to work really hard in the offseason.”

Freshman guard Justin Anderson was once again the spark plug for Virginia, registering five 3-pointers and five blocked shots while scoring a team-high 24 points, but even his all-around performance was not enough. The Cavaliers’ vaunted packline defense, which had become the most prominent aspect of an arena-record 19-game winning streak at JPJ, betrayed them when it mattered most.

Iowa shot 49 percent from the field while reaching the highest point total of any non-conference foe Virginia faced this season. The Hawkeyes outscored the Cavaliers 44-36 in the decisive second half, pulling away on a combination of sharpshooting and hustle plays. Iowa made all 15 free throw attempts on the night and shot 8-of-17 from long range, but they also tallied 17 second chance points and dominated on the glass.

“I challenged them at halftime to come out and play, embrace the physicality of this game,” Bennett said. “They did for a bit, and then [Iowa] just kept playing and playing and we wore down.”

Virginia, meanwhile, was out of sorts offensively in its final game of the season. Third-team All-ACC junior forward Akil Mitchell continued his late-season struggles, scoring just nine points on two made field goals. Cavalier starters aside from Anderson scored just 23 points and junior guard Joe Harris missed 7-of-11 field goal attempts.

“Joe carried a big load all year,” Bennett said. “I think he looked worn down at the end and didn’t play his best basketball the last few games.”

Freshman forward Mike Tobey, who led all reserves with 15 points, gave the Cavaliers their final lead of the game with 13:34 remaining on a two-handed slam. Marble’s lone 3-pointer of the night sparked an 8-0 run that put the Hawkeyes ahead for good and left an energized crowd stunned. Seven different Iowa players scored during the decisive 10-minute stretch after Tobey’s dunk.

“They’re hard to play because I think they’re balanced,” Bennett said. “We gave them way too many easy looks.”

Tobey’s layup and three made free throws cut the deficit to 49-46 with 8:05 remaining, but for the first time at home in months, the Cavaliers could not come up with the needed stops. The Hawkeyes reeled off another nine straight points in the next 2:45, as junior forward Zach McCabe drilled a backbreaking 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 12.

Anderson continued his frantic play by scoring nine points in the last 5:04, but his efforts were not enough for Virginia. With the lead swelling as high as 14 with under a minute remaining, a Cavalier fan base that has grown accustomed to winning rose to its feet to give its team a warm send-off with a standing ovation while chanting “U-V-A.”

The loss concluded the careers of Evans and senior walk-on Doug Browman, who have each seen a program on the rise since the hiring of Bennett. Evans struggled in his final collegiate action, failing to score and committing four fouls while struggling to contain Marble.

“Jontel is such a leader and it hurts losing him,” Anderson said. “We fought our hearts out and afterward it wasn’t even about the game, but our appreciation for the seniors.”

Evans’ poor final showing was reflective of the declining play of the team’s three key veterans. Evans, Harris and Mitchell combined for just 20 points on 6-of-19 shooting while freshmen Anderson and Tobey made 11-of-24 shots and scored 39 points. That core group, outside of Evans, will return in 2013 along with a potentially strong freshman class and the additions of transfer Anthony Gill and injured sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon.

“We have to keep fighting,” Anderson said. “Our program is on the right start and we’re going up. We learned a huge lesson this year about protecting our house.”


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