Leistikow's 4 thoughts off 'underappreciated' Iowa basketball's big win at Virginia

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

This Iowa basketball team has believed for a while that it could outperform low outside expectations. Back in October, players like Joe Toussaint scoffed at media predictions that the Hawkeyes would finish ninth in the Big Ten Conference.

We still don’t know what this season holds for Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes. But on Monday night, we learned a little bit more about them. They showed some grit to win in a hostile environment on the road.

Toussaint’s game-winning bucket with 8.4 seconds left and Patrick McCaffery’s blocked shot as time expired sent Iowa to a thrilling 75-74 victory at Virginia, the 2019 NCAA champion, before a raucous crowd of 13,542 at John Paul Jones Arena in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Jordan Bohannon said he saw this win coming a night earlier at the team’s dinner. The sixth-year senior guard sensed this young team had the right mentality to seize a road opportunity. So did Keegan Murray, the Hawkeyes’ sophomore star and nation’s leading scorer.

“We feel like we’re underappreciated. Just have an underdog mentality,” said Murray, who finished with a season-low 18 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes. “We just lock into the scout, lock into the film every single day. We don’t take anything for granted. We came out and showcased that in first half, kept our composure in the second half.”

It was a wild night in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Hawkeyes roared to a 40-19 advantage with a scintillating offense but saw that 21-point lead become a one-point deficit in the game's final minutes. A weaker team would’ve crumbled. But this team showed strength down the stretch.

Fran McCaffery chest-bumped Murray with excitement after the final horn sounded, and Iowa had improved to 7-0 on this young season. This was a win worth celebrating.

“You’re playing one of the best teams in the country, packed house,” Fran McCaffery said. “At some point in the game, there’s going to be adversity. We overcame adversity a number of times and got contributions from a lot of different people and won a hard-fought game.

“You’re proud of your guys when they come out with a W in those situations.”

So, about that final sequence.

What a great moment it was for Toussaint to enjoy a game-winning shot. Yet the junior from the Bronx, New York, who had a nice contingent of family and friends in attendance, deflected the personal importance of his bucket off the glass, from just right of the lane, with 8.4 seconds remaining. After Iowa's designed play broke down, Toussaint took a contested shot and knocked it in. He finished with 10 points.

“It’s really for my team. It’s not for me. I’m glad I made the shot,” the point guard said. “But it goes to show we’re a tough team. We can go on the road and win.”

Toussaint was mostly relegated to the bench a year ago. But he waited his turn. He said after workouts, he’ll visualize and practice game-on-the-line moments on his own.

“Layouts, step-back 3s, floaters in the lane,” Toussaint said. “I just practice those shots, so that shot was a regular shot for me, to be honest.”

A crazy sequence led to Toussaint’s heroics. After Virginia took a 71-70 lead — its first since 2-0 — Bohannon answered with a top-of-the-key 3-pointer with 1:15 to go to push Iowa in front, 73-71. The Cavaliers answered with a tough 3 from Kihei Clark over Filip Rebraca with 45 seconds remaining to make it 74-73. After a Bohannon miss, the Hawkeyes got a break when Taine Murray missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw. Iowa took timeout with 16.7 seconds left, with an opportunity for the winning shot.

Bohannon, actually, thought he was fouled before Toussaint’s game-winner. He set a screen to free up Murray, but there was no call despite Virginia’s Armaan Franklin shoving Bohannon to the ground.

“The guy ran over me. I should’ve been at the free-throw line,” said Bohannon, a career 89% free-throw shooter. “But playing on the road, you just have to keep playing through it. We had Joe T get the ball, step up and make a huge play. That’s what this team is about.”

But the game wasn’t over. Clark’s leaner in the lane misfired, and Virginia center Kadin Shedrick looked to have an easy put-back for the win. But Patrick McCaffery leapt from the lane to swat Shedrick’s attempt into the Virginia bench.

Game over. The Hawkeyes were still unbeaten.

Joe Toussaint is hugged by teammate Tony Perkins after the Hawkeyes' 75-74 win at Virginia.

Jordan Bohannon has always been a road warrior.

The 6-foot-1 Marion native has an ornery side to him that everyone on Twitter can see. It’s that type of edge that often shows up in big moments on the road — as if to prove his many doubters wrong.

Bohannon canned six more 3-pointers on Monday in nine attempts to give him 385 career 3s. That’s 385 more than his social-media critics, a Big Ten record that keeps growing. So many of those have come on the road in bunches. Bohannon has had some unforgettable hush-the-crowd moments as a Hawkeye — dating to his eight 3-pointers at Maryland as a freshman to put Iowa on the brink of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. He’s tormented home teams at the Kohl Center, the Carrier Dome, Assembly Hall. And now … "JPJ" as they call it in Charlottesville.

Against one the nation’s elite defensive teams, Bohannon knew buckets might be tough to come by.

“We couldn’t get everything going in our motion offense tonight, because they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Bohannon said. “I was trying to use my shooting ability and trying to get in the paint a little bit.”

Bohannon finished with 20 points, the first time this season someone besides Murray led the team in scoring. His alley-oop to Murray for a dunk pushed Iowa’s lead to 68-61.

A while back, Iowa figured CJ Fredrick would be its shooting guard this season until he transferred to Kentucky. Fredrick is out for the season there with a hamstring injury. No wonder Fran McCaffery on Monday expressed gratefulness that Bohannon decided to come back for a sixth year as Iowa's shooting guard.

“He’s such a gamer. He’s so smart. He’s so tough mentally,” the 12th-year Hawkeye coach said. “You knew he was going to come out on fire. … Boy, he just made some huge plays. The drive and pitch to the rim to Keegan, a huge play in the game.”

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) shoots next to Virginia guard Reece Beekman (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va.

Give credit to Iowa’s ball security and composure.

I know some folks just love to bash Iowa’s defense, but give credit to Virginia for making a bevy of second-half shots. The Cavaliers roared back with 7-of-9 3-point shooting in the second half. They also made some defensive adjustments, such as hounding Bohannon. Still, a Tony Bennett team gave up 75 points at home for just the sixth time in his 13-year tenure — two of those occasions have been vs. Iowa; in the 2013 NIT and on Monday.

So, credit Iowa’s offense for being extremely efficient against a defense that was allowing 53.6 points per game, fourth-best nationally. Iowa only got 55 possessions in the 40-minute game but scored on 33 of them. It committed only four turnovers. It shot 10-for-21 from 3-point range, including two biggies from Kris Murray.

“Their principles are really hard to get by. They never mess up on defense. They rarely mess up on offense,” Bohannon said. “To beat Virginia at Virginia, you have to play your best game of the year.”

Amen. And now, it’s time to open the Big Ten season. The Hawkeyes travel to second-ranked Purdue on Friday for an 8 p.m. CT matchup. Time to lock in again.

“This is a huge win and a huge environment to help us go into Mackey (Arena),” Keegan Murray said, “and try to do some damage there.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.