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Men’s basketball falls 75-74 in a heartbreaker against Iowa

After mounting a furious comeback in the second half, the Cavaliers squandered some last- second opportunities against the Hawkeyes in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

<p>Sophomore guard Reece Beekman had a solid outing for the Cavaliers, posting 11 points and five assists.&nbsp;</p>

Sophomore guard Reece Beekman had a solid outing for the Cavaliers, posting 11 points and five assists. 

In its annual battle against a Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Virginia looked to extend their four-game winning streak against Iowa in a clash of established programs. After clawing back from an early 21-point deficit to the Hawkeyes (7-0, 0-0 Big Ten), the Cavaliers (5-3, 0-0 ACC) witnessed a jumper from senior Iowa guard Joe Toussaint fall through the net to end any dreams of a triumphant comeback. Virginia — having benefited from the stellar play of freshman guard Taine Murray — could not convert their last-second opportunities after rushing down the floor in the waning seconds.

With ten NBA scouts in Charlottesville to presumably watch the Hawkeyes’ sophomore forward Keegan Murray, Iowa ran out to an early lead after cashing in five of their first six field goals. The Cavaliers had to play catch-up on the heels of a 7-0 run from the Hawkeyes, who established a 14-6 lead with 15:09 to play in the first half. Senior guard Jordan Bohannon — who has been with Iowa through three presidential administrations — catalyzed his team’s offense with two three-pointers in that stretch. 

Virginia bounced back from the deficit to trim the lead to 18-14 after a layup from senior guard Kihei Clark, yet watched the lead once again disappear as the Hawkeyes carried a 7-2 run into the last eight minutes of the half. Virginia — who had gone eight for twenty from the field up until the 7:54 minute mark — struggled from the three-point line and could not stymie Iowa’s high-octane offense. 

After gaining a 25-19 advantage, the Hawkeyes launched an assault against the Cavalier defense and ran out to what seemed to be an insurmountable lead. A deafening 15-0 run — spearheaded by two more three-pointers from Bohannon’s hot hand — allowed Iowa to hold a comfortable 40-19 score with 3:44 to play in the half. Virginia made some questionable moves on defense during the spurt, as the Cavaliers’ Murray found himself matched up against the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer in Keegan Murray several times in the frontcourt. Moreover, the Pack-Line’s weakness from beyond the arc revealed itself once again as Bohannon sank four of his six three-point attempts.

Despite the initial lack of offensive production, Virginia roared back in the last minute to carry some momentum into halftime. Senior forward Jayden Gardner, sophomore guard Reece Beekman and Clark all made layups to narrow the deficit to 44-30 in a respectable 6-0 run. Beekman’s layup fell through with only three seconds remaining and Cavalier fans applauded their team’s tenacity as the two teams ran into the tunnel. 

A completely different story emerged in the second half. Gardner — who tallied eight points in the first twenty minutes — matched his first half total after only four minutes of play. The senior forward drained two three-pointers and converted a layup to bring the score to 49-39 with 16:10 remaining. After five consecutive points from Iowa, the Cavaliers embarked on a 9-0 stretch and brought themselves five points closer to a potential comeback victory. Both teams went back and forth after Virginia trimmed the advantage to 58-53, with the frontcourt presence of sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick keeping the Cavaliers in the game despite excellent three-point shooting from the Hawkeyes.

Gardner, Shedrick and freshman guard/forward Igor Milicic Jr. dominated the interior and gave Virginia three consecutive baskets en route to a 64-61 scoreline. Once again the two teams traded points, yet Virginia’s Murray would prove to be the difference maker for a team lacking production from behind the arc. His two unanswered three-pointers established the first lead for the Cavaliers since the 19:10 mark of the first half, as the New Zealand product emerged in a massive way after not seeing much time on the court in previous games. 

Nonetheless, Bohannon cashed in his sixth three-pointer of the night to take the lead at 73-71, while the Cavaliers’ Clark responded with one of his own to regain a one-point advantage with forty seconds to play. The crux of the second half manifested itself in a missed free throw from Murray, who could not convert one of his shots in the bonus to potentially give Virginia a three-point lead with under 30 seconds remaining.

As Iowa scrambled to recover from its squandered lead, Toussaint engaged a clutch gene and completed a midrange jumper with only eight seconds to play. Virginia — choosing not to call a timeout before the inbound — witnessed Clark fail to convert a layup and McCaffery block Shedrick’s putback attempt before the buzzer sounded. In a classic between the two unusual opponents, the Hawkeyes put away the tenacious Cavaliers by a score of 75-74.

“We absorbed some defensive breakdowns even in the second half, we had to just get some guys off the floor and go with what was working but again, good fight, good comeback,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “I hope we'll grow from it. But how we started a game and being that lukewarm in my opinion is not going to get it done for us.” 

In a game of runs, the Cavaliers could not find the bottom of the net when it mattered most. Virginia has plenty of room to improve on the defensive end even if the offense proved itself to be capable in the last 20 minutes of play. The comeback, however, has given Virginia fans a reason to be hopeful for this team’s cohesion as conference play looms on the horizon.

Gardner, Clark and Murray — having all ended the game as double-digit scorers — excelled and faltered at the same time. Clark completed a clutch three-pointer only to miss the game-winning layup, while Murray flourished from behind the arc only to squander late free-throws that may have put the nail in the coffin. Gardner took it upon himself to tally eight consecutive points in the second half for the Cavaliers yet failed at times to master the Pack-Line defense.

However, the fight from this team has proven that Virginia cannot be written off despite its faults. Not many teams can climb out of a 21 point-hole and bring one of the nation’s best offenses to the brink. Virginia only recorded five turnovers — their second lowest total this season — and seemed to be in complete control on the offensive end in the second half. Furthermore, the Cavaliers shot a season-best fifty percent from the three-point line even with junior guard Armaan Franklin recording a mere three points. Plenty of good can be taken away from the offensive side of the ball, yet time will still tell whether this Pack-Line can be consistent enough to win close games in January and beyond.

The Cavaliers will remain in Charlottesville for a date with Pittsburgh in both teams’ ACC debut Friday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.