Iowa 75, Virginia 74: Make Way For Joey Buckets

By RossWB on November 29, 2021 at 11:19 pm
JOEY BUCKETS
© Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
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It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves. 

Iowa played Virginia in Charlottesville on Monday night in the tip-off for the 2021 iteration of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in a game that featured no shortage of late drama, wild swings of fortune, and clutch moments. Fortunately, this epic tale had a suitably happy ending: Iowa prevailed 75-74, improving to 7-0 on the season and scoring their first win of the season over a team that didn't have a KenPom rating that would double as a killer batting average. This was a game of extremes, though; both teams looked great at times and both teams looked terrible at other times. Iowa managed to make just a few more big plays at the end of the game to lock up the victory. 

It didn't seem like any late game heroism would be needed for Iowa after the way they started the game. Iowa threatened to run Virginia out of their own gym in the first half; they were absolutely on fire. The first 20 minutes were an almost perfect half for Iowa, bar a late Virginia mini-run to cut the Hawkeye lead to 14 at the break. Iowa's offense was flowing well and they were getting (and making) good shots early in possessions; they were also getting stops on defense and generating transition opportunities that further fueled their strong offense. Iowa outscored Virginia 11-2 in fast break points and topped them on second chance points (11-6). Overall they shot 57% from the floor and and 46% from 3-point range, led by Keegan Murray with 11 points and Jordan Bohannon with 12 points on 4/6 shooting from long range. Iowa averaged a blazing 1.57 points per possession (compared to 1.03 points per posession for the Cavaliers) en route to a record-setting 44-point effort in the first half. 

But Virginia is still Virginia and Tony Bennett's boys weren't going to roll over and die, especially at home. And in the second half the offensive mojo swapped uniforms. Now it was Virginia who was NBA JAM levels of unstoppable on the offensive end. They shot 63% from the floor in the second half and a preposterous 78% (7/9) from 3-point range after the break. Again: a team making 33% of their 3-point tries on the season drained four out of every five threes attempted in the second half. (We can talk a bit more about why that happened in a moment.) Jayden Gardner, their best player, was a key focal point in Virginia's second half resurgence; he had 10 points on 4/5 shooting in that period. But they also got contributions from completely unexpected sources, like 11 points on 4/5 shooting (3/4 from deep) from Taine freaking Murray. The freshman from New Zealand had scored a grand total of four points in the five previous games he'd played in and attempted just one three. Naturally he turned into Steph Curry against Iowa. Overall, Virginia ended up averaging 1.57 points per possession in the second half, while Iowa averaged just 1.15 points per possession. 

And so a comfortable Iowa lead was steadily diminished as the half progressed, becoming a one-score lead as the game hit its closing stretch. Virginia's threes kept falling, with the Cavaliers taking their first lead (71-70) since 2-0 on a Murray triple with just over 90 seconds to play. Iowa hit back with a trey from Jordan Bohannon to retake the lead. Virginia counterpunched again with a three from Kihei Clark to take a 74-73 lead with 45 seconds to play. After leading the game by 21 (!) in the first half, Iowa now trailed with less than a minute to play. Things were feeling a bit bleak. 

Bohannon bricked an off-balance, rushed three-point try on Iowa's next possession (Bohannon was mostly outstanding on offense in this game, but if you look up "ill-advised shot" on wikipedia, you should see a picture of that attempt), but fortunately Virginia couldn't capitalize when Murray -- their unlikely second half hero -- missed the first half of a one-and-one at the free throw line. Iowa got the ball back and after some awkwardness on offense and a timeout from Fran, Joe Toussaint found himself with the ball and the clock running down. And then he did this: 

JOEY BUCKETS TO THE RESCUE.

The game was not yet over, as there were still almost eight seconds remaining on the clock; Virginia stormed down the floor and Clark managed a very good attempt near the basket that was too strong and missed. Kadin Shedrick's offensive rebound and put-back attempt was thwarted by... a Patrick McCaffery block! Yes, that's right: Iowa won a big game with a big-time defensive play. It's true! It really happened! 

If you're of a pessimistic slant, you could say that Iowa was lucky to escape this game with a win and that they damn near choked the game off in the second half with some terrible defense and bad decisions on offense. Conversely, if you want to look at the game with a more optimistic perspective, you could argue that Iowa passed a difficult road test against a solid team and survived what may be Virginia's best half of offensive basketball all season. You decide! 

There was a lot to be excited about in that first half -- Iowa's offense was flowing beautifully; players were moving smartly without the ball, there were lots of good looks, Iowa attacked smartly in transition, and didn't allow Virginia to get their defense set. They also played solid defense, preventing Virginia from getting too many easy drives to the basket and getting the 'Hoos to settle for a lot of mid-range (or longer) jump shots. Equally, though, there were plenty of things to be alarmed by in the second half -- Iowa's offense lost all sense of flow (Virginia's improved defense certainly deserves plenty of credit on that front as well) and Iowa stopped getting good looks and was reduced to chucking up difficult jump shots on too many possessions. They did a particularly poor job of attacking the rim for too much of that half.

Their offense was also hurt by their bad defense; Virginia was able to get back and set up their defense after their made shots in the second half, which denied Iowa much in the way of transition or quick-scoring opportunities. That forced Iowa into a lot of half-court looks, where Iowa struggles and Virginia excels. Defensively, Iowa's rotations seemed slow in the second half and they struggled to get a hand in shooters' faces and contest shots, especially three-point tries. They also struggled to stop dribble penetration by Virginia's guards, which led to a lot of easy looks and open shots for the Cavaliers. There were a lot of good things to point to from Iowa's performance in this game, but there were also a lot of areas for improvement, especially with Big Ten play looming. 

Jordan Bohannon led all scorers with 20 points. He's always been money in Big Ten-ACC Challenge games and he didn't disappoint tonight after some ho-hum performances in Iowa's last few outings. Bohannon made his first four three-pointers of the game, helping to set the tone early for Iowa, and he also made a huge three late in the game to help Iowa (briefly) regain the lead in the wild swings of the final minutes. He finished with 20 points on 7/12 shooting (6/9 from long range) and another game for the JBo Best Of reel. Keegan Murray had his worst game of the season, statistically... but he still managed to score 18 points on 7/13 shooting (1/4 from 3-point range) and haul in 9 rebounds, while dishing out 3 assists. He also showed off his toughness in the second half; he returned to the floor after an ankle injury scare (he landed awkwardly on his brother Kris' foot after going up for a rebound) briefly sent him to the locker room. 

The third player for Iowa to score in double figures was Joe Toussaint, who finished with 10 points (including the aforementioned game-winning bucket) on 4/7 shooting to go with three rebounds. Interestingly, I think all of Toussaint's buckets came on jumpers or floaters rather than layups; Toussaint with a functional (and consistent) jump shot really adds an exciting dimension to Iowa's offense. Filip Rebraca finished with 8 points on 4/4 shooting and 3 rebounds, but the enduring memory of his performance in this game may be the three consecutive free throws that he missed in the second half. Those misses certainly loomed large as the game tightened up in the final minutes. There's no question that he'll need to work on his free throw shooting and improve that going forward (as a team Iowa was just 5/10 from the charity stripe in the second half, which was pretty underwhelming), but he also gave Iowa a solid presence on the interior in terms of rebounding and defense. He did a nice job of attacking the basket on a few possessions in the second half when Iowa was in dire need of buckets, too. 

Patrick McCaffery had a quiet stat line with just 7 points (3/6 shooting, 1/1 3FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, a block, and a steal, but he had some extremely timely contributions. Like Rebraca, he had some huge buckets for Iowa in the second half when Iowa's offense was floundering and desperately trying to find buckets. He also had some very sharp passes and he made the defensive play of the game with his block at the end of the game. Not an overwhelming game for P-Mac, but definitely an impactful one. 

Iowa's bench was not particularly impactful in this game, though they did provide a good stretch of minutes for Iowa in the first half. The bench had just 12 points for Iowa in this game, led by Kris Murray's six points on 2/7 shooting. Tony Perkins added four points on 2/3 shooting along with a rebound and a steal. He provided good energy and seemed like a disruptive force in the first half, but he was unable to have as much of an impact in the second half. 

This win gives Iowa four straight victories (and seven of their last nine) in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, dating back to 2018. 

2018: Iowa 69, Pitt 68
2019: Iowa 68, Syracuse 54
2020: Iowa 93, North Carolina 80
2021: Iowa 75, Virginia 74

Considering that Iowa once lost seven games in a row in this event (2006-2012), this is a very welcome change of pace. These wins often hold up as solid resume boosters come March and NCAA Tournament time as well, so that's another plus. 

After gorging on cupcakes in the first three weeks of the season, it was difficult to get a read on this Iowa team. They seemed better than many expected/feared they might be without former stalwarts Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and C.J. Fredrick, but it wasn't clear if they were actually good or just beating up on tomato cans. This win doesn't answer all of those questions, but it's definitely a promising start. Going on the road and beating a solid team in a tough environment? That's a huge positive for this team and a strong indicator that, yes, they're capable of more than just beating up on patsies. They can hold their own against higher-caliber opposition, too.

NEXT: Iowa heads to West Lafayette to face #2 Purdue (6-0) on Friday night (8 PM CT, BTN). 

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