By Carolo Pascale
Shades of March 2022 shined at Hynes Athletic Center as superstar senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. once again did the unthinkable against Iona, splashing down another clutch, game-winning three for the second time in under a year as the Broncs topped the Gaels 70-67 on Jan. 15.
After looking dead to rights and down by 18 three minutes into the second half, Rider exploded in the last 15 minutes to storm back and take the lead, with Murray capping it off at the end.
“Nothing was going right for us, but we stayed together. We talked about it at halftime and we just started getting stops,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “Our whole thing was just trying to keep it close and find a way in the end. Nobody ever gave up and they stayed together and it started with [Murray].”
In last season’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament quarterfinal matchup between the Broncs and the No.1 seeded Gaels, Murray converted on a floater with 7.7 seconds left, knocking out the Gaels. He only needed four of those seconds in the recent matinee game, handing the Gaels their first loss at home since Feb. 13 in 2021, a 21 game stretch.
“He always wants the big shot, and even if he misses he’s going to want it again,” said Baggett.
Murray, who finished with a team-leading 22 points in the afternoon, gave credit for the win to everyone but himself.
“First of all, thank God. He did it again. It wasn’t me out there playing,” said Murray. “All my teammates knew I was going to take that shot, and they all trusted me. I’m just proud of my team that we came back and fought back.”
After going basket for basket to start the game, the Gaels opened up some breathing room and ran with it all the way into half time, leading 40-28 after the first half. Rider shot poorly in the half, only making 12-of-34 attempts and only one shot behind the arc.
After a rough start to the second which saw Iona sink consecutive threes, Rider was down by 18 points, seemingly down and out.
Baggett called a timeout after this and was seemingly able to wrangle the team together, which spurred on an insane 26-6 run that gave the Broncs their first lead since the early minutes of the game.
The second half saw an incredible turnaround in the shooting department for the Broncs, having shot an amazing 15-for-24 (62.5%) from the field, and an otherworldly 5-for-6 (83.3%) from the three.
Part of that turnaround was powered by sophomore guard Adetokunbo Bakare who came off the bench to score three three-pointers, knotting the score at 54.
“That young man has brass, man, he really does. He’ll take the big shot like [Murray],” said Baggett. “Every time I give him a chance, he takes advantage of his chance and that’s what it’s all about.”
Murray even credited the comeback to him due to the energy it gave the team.
“[Bakare] coming off the bench, that made a big difference. He came in and brought the energy,” said Murray. “We really came back because of him. 100%.”
Bakare, a fresh face who transferred from Indian Hills, finished the game with nine points and four rebounds in 22 minutes of play, the most he’s seen this season.
“I knew my time was coming,” said Bakare. “I’m from Newark, New Jersey so I gotta show everytime I play and play with all my heart.”
Another key part of the comeback was senior forward Mervin James. His play along the offensive boards was crucial to get the Broncs back in the game, notching 15 points on nearly 50% shooting that stemmed from being able to drive to the net for tough and contested layups.
With the win, Rider broke its three game losing streak and now have a 4-3 conference record as it looks forward to Jan. 20 when it takes on Niagara back at home. For now, they get to once again celebrate a victory over Iona.
After the game, James, who went to high school with Murray, was asked about his big shot at the end and he said he knew it was going in and has given Murray a new nickname.
“Oh yeah I already knew,” said James. “You know what I call him? Iona Killer.”