Taine Murray’s stat totals for the season entering Virginia’s game against Iowa were as follows: 29 minutes played, one made field goal on five attempts, and four points.
Murray’s stats against Iowa off the bench on Monday night: 21 minutes played, 5/7 shooting, including four three-pointers, and 14 points.
The true freshman from New Zealand had played sparingly through the first seven games of the season and he got an especially short end of the stick in the last few games, as Tony Bennett continued to experiment with various lineups. Murray did not see the floor in either of Virginia’s games in the Legends Classic last week against Georgia and Providence and he played just three minutes in garbage time at the end of the win over Lehigh on Friday.
To his credit, Murray stayed ready for when his name was called on Monday night against the Hawkeyes.
“I put a lot of trust in the coaching staff and you know, they make great decisions,” Murray said after the game. “I always try to be ready, so I was really fortunate to get the minutes tonight and be able to help this team, unfortunately in the loss.”
Murray played an instrumental role in Virginia’s remarkable comeback effort, as the Cavaliers erased a 21-point deficit and even took the lead late in the game. Murray scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to give the Hoos an immense lift off the bench.
Virginia put together a few scoring runs to try to close the gap, but Iowa continued to hit shots and make plays at critical moments to keep UVA at bay for most of the second half.
The Cavaliers cut it to nine points, but Patrick McCaffery then scored five straight to put Iowa back up by 14 and the Hawkeyes threatened to blow the game wide open again midway through the second half. Jayden Gardner passed out of the post to Taine Murray in the corner in front of the UVA bench and Murray splashed the triple. The shot sparked a UVA run which got the Hoos back within five points.
“He's tough, gritty, not perfect, but plays hard and is not afraid of the moment,” said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. “He'll have ups and downs, as all the guys do, but he's a hard-nosed, tough young man.”
A few minutes later, Virginia got within three on an alley-oop dunk by Kadin Shedrick from Kihei Clark and John Paul Jones Arena was rocking. But, Iowa once again responded impressively well to the pressure and scored back-to-back baskets to make it 68-61 with 4:01 remaining.
As momentum seemed to be exchanging hands, it was time for the freshman to step up once again. This time, Murray finally got the Hoos over the hump.
Murray got the ball in the right corner and attacked on a baseline drive and finished the layup off the glass over Keegan Murray. After Filip Rebraca and Reece Beekman traded layups, Armaan Franklin passed to the right corner to Murray, who buried the three-pointer to make it 70-68 with 2:21 left in the game.
Rebraca missed a free throw and Virginia got the ball back down only two points with a chance to tie or take the lead. Virginia worked the ball inside the Iowa zone to Reece Beekman, who passed out to the left corner where Taine Murray was ready to take the shot. Once again, Murray drained the quick-release three-pointer to give the Cavaliers their first lead since it was 2-0 in the first minute of the game.
Jordan Bohannon and Kihei Clark exchanged clutch three-pointers and UVA led 74-73 with 45 seconds remaining. Virginia got a stop on the defensive end and Murray was fouled after collecting the defensive rebound. After playing like a seasoned veteran for most of the second half, Murray finally looked like an inexperienced freshman, as he missed the front end of a one-and-one which could have put UVA up by three. Instead, Iowa got the ball back down only one point and Joe Toussaint banked in a jumper with eight seconds left and the Hawkeyes escaped with the win.
Despite the loss, the Cavaliers showed remarkable resilience in their second-half comeback. There were a number of bright spots for the Hoos and plenty of indicators that they can win a lot of games this season if they can deliver more complete performances. Taine Murray’s electrifying performance was perhaps the most promising aspect of Monday’s game, as his development as a reliable contributor, especially with his perimeter shooting, could be crucial for Virginia moving forward.
Tony Bennett could not help but reference another UVA men’s basketball alum who hailed from New Zealand.
“I thought he's a tough Kiwi,” Bennett said of Murray. “Jack Salt would have been proud of him tonight.”