CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Iowa basketball team finally got the test it needed and wanted Monday night.
It passed. With flying colors.
The Hawkeyes built a 21-point first-half lead against a vaunted Virginia defense, let it slip away in the final minutes, then got some late heroics from Joe Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery to pull out a 75-74 victory over the Cavaliers in the hostile confines of John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia, which trailed for more than 37 minutes in the middle portion of the game, snuck into a 74-73 lead on a 3-point field goal by senior Kihei Clark in the final minute of play.
After an exchange of possessions, Toussaint penetrated along the right wing, did a pump fake to get his defender in the air and banked in a 12-foot jumper to the give the Hawkeyes the lead with 8.4 seconds remaining.
“Just go make a play. It’s that simple,’’ Toussaint said. “Ball was in my hands. Go make a play.’’
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Clark dribbled quickly to the opposite end but missed on a short floater from in the lane. Virginia center Kadin Shedrick grabbed the rebound and put up a follow-up shot, but Patrick McCaffery rose up to sway it away.
“Patrick came in and saved the day,’’ Toussaint said. “Smacked the ball into the fifth row.’’
Time ran out as he did so, setting off a Hawkeye celebration on the court.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery admitted the victory, which came in the opening game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, was a bit more meaningful than just any non-conference win.
“You’re on the road, you’re playing one of the best teams in the country with a packed house,’’ he said. “At some point in the game there’s going to be some adversity. We overcame adversity a number of different times and got contributions from a lot of different people and won a hard-fought game. It was a very physical, hard-fought game.’’
Virginia, only two years removed from winning the national championship, has a reputation for defensive excellence, so the fact that the Hawkeyes shot 53.6% from the field and committed only four turnovers was impressive.
“They are the best defensive team,’’ said Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, who led the Hawkeyes with 20 points. “Their principles are really hard to get by. They never mess up on defense. They rarely mess up on offense. To beat Virginia at Virginia, you have to play your best game of the year.’’
Keegan Murray, who was sidelined briefly in the second half after injuring his ankle, added 18 points and nine rebounds, but the Hawkeyes got some sort of significant contribution from almost everyone who played.
“A lot of people stepped up,’’ Bohannon said.