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Iowa will leave next week for an NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden. The Hawkeyes wiped away a season's worth of road disappointment and beat Virginia 75-64 last night at John Paul Jones Arena.
New York, New York. Iowa (24-12) made it there, and will play future Big Ten member Maryland (25-12) at 8 p.m. next Tuesday.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery declared the postgame locker room scene the wildest in his three seasons. New York native Melsahn Basabe twice described it as “crazy” before shouting “We're going to New York baby!”
Perhaps the happiest member of the Iowa locker room was senior Eric May, who opened his career with a 10-win season and helped win a game Wednesday that equaled the third-most victories in school history.
“We're by no means satisfied, but man that was special,” May said. “The excitement of everybody in there. We're going for a common goal. We're in it together. Just knowing everybody's excited, one through 15. It's unbelievable, the atmosphere we had.”
The Cavaliers had won 19 straight home games before Tuesday, and Iowa had lost eight of its previous 10 true road games. But the Hawkeyes weathered a tough couple of possessions and put together its best second half of the season. Iowa finally closed out an opponent on the road and did it almost perfectly.
The Hawkeyes drilled all 15 free-throw attempts, and 14 took place inside of the final 3:09. Iowa scored 75 points against a team that ranked fourth nationally giving up only 55 per game. The Hawkeyes shot 49.1 percent from the field and out-rebounded Virginia 34-26.
“I thought our offensive execution down the stretch was great,” McCaffery said. “Our spacing, our back-running was good and we executed our sets. Guys made shots, guys made free throws and guys made passes.”
In a back-and-forth second half, Iowa broke apart a close game with a 12-3 run. With Iowa up 49-46, Aaron White scored his first basket with a ferocious dunk over Justin Anderson. Adam Woodbury, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, followed with an inside basket a possession later.
Then Iowa scored back-to-back on a Devyn Marble shot at the rim, a Zach McCabe 3-pointer and a May 3-pointer at the top of the key to put the Hawkeyes up 61-49.
Iowa held the Cavaliers (23-12) to 38 percent from the field and kept all-ACC guard Joe Harris to 11 points and four turnovers.
“They play good basketball,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “They're difficult to play against because they defend you and they're very physical. We were trying to guard them.
“I think they wore us down. They're hard to play because I think they're balanced. We gave them way too many easy looks.”
Marble and Anthony Clemmons, who scored seven points in 19 minutes, had to compensate for Mike Gesell's continued foot problems. Gesell reinjured his right foot and didn't play in the second half. Marble continued his sizzling postseason run, scoring 24 points. He's averaging 25.3 points over the Iowa's three NIT games.
“We definitely earned this one,” Marble said. “We played hard, we played hungry, we knew what was at stake and we knew they weren't going to give it to us. We had to take it.”
Iowa qualifies for its first NIT semifinal in seven trips. The Hawkeyes previously were 0-2 in NIT quarterfinals.
“This is one of the best team wins I've ever been a part of,” May said. “To come here and to win it like that, nobody's done it this year like we did. That just shows how good this team is and how dangerous we are when we're playing like that.”