Murray leads 11-point comeback in upset win

By Shaun Chornobroff

Atlantic City, N.J. – The weather finally warmed on March 8, there was an aura of upset in the air at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when the 11th seeded Rider men’s basketball team faced Canisius in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament.

The Broncs encapsulated the aura and made it a reality, with the team scraping out a 78-76 upset victory over the sixth-seeded Golden Griffin’s and earning the right to play Saint Peter’s in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals.

Sophomore guard Allen Powell, who has had a breakout campaign for the Broncs, encapsulated the ecstasy the team felt when proudly admitting there was “nothing better than this” in the postgame press conference.

Rider found themselves trailing 66-55 after a nightmare sequence with a hair less than 12:00 remaining in the second half. But the Broncs, who have been competitive in many of their 13 conference losses this year, once again refused to quit.

“My message to our guys was to stay together,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said after the statement victory. “We were going to go through some highs, some lows, a little bit of adversity in the game, [but] stay together. If you want to win in this tournament, you guys have to stay together, play together and continue to believe.”

After going down 11 and on their way to let another game slip away, the Broncs outscored Canisius 23-10 and finished the game on a 7-0 run.

Of course, the game ended with a play from Murray, who made a statement to the conference in the game after being controversially left off the All-MAAC first team, instead having to settle for a well-deserved place on the second team.

“I definitely felt like that,” Murray said when asked if he felt like he had something to prove in the victory. “I’m happy that we’re here right now because first team is something I really wanted, but my main goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament with my team.”

With each team’s desperation at an all-time high and the game knotted at 76 and possibly inching towards overtime, Murray had the ball in his hands.

The junior guard made a move inside but found his momentum stampeded by a Canisius defender. With the possession trending toward being wasted, Murray pulled something special out of nowhere, finding Dontrell McQuarter with a piercing pass next to the rim.

“My teammates were yelling ‘Trell’s open, Trell’s open,’ then I turned around because I was looking for him and I saw [him] sitting there and I just threw it up to the point where he could catch it and he just went up with it,” Murray explained.

The junior forward proceeded to fool a Canisius defender with a sleek pump-fake before bringing the Rider bench and limited fans to a roar with a layup to score the game’s final points.

“I just go back to the Monmouth game two games ago where he really, really struggled,” Baggett said in his postgame press conference. “He’s had a tough year, he’s had a family emergency. He’s been away from the team and to be honest with you guys I wasn’t sure if he was going to come back to the team dealing with his family, with the situation at home.”

The win saw a plethora of players besides Murray come up huge. McQuarter had a double-double,

Rider’s center duo of junior Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson and redshirt sophomore Tyrel Bladen combined for 17 points and 13 rebounds, while being successful on 11 of their 12 free throws, but Powell’s contributions may have been the most important.

The sophomore guard hit multiple crucial shots in the second half and steadied the ship in the first half when Murray and fellow guard Christian Ings were dealing with foul trouble.

“It definitely feels good, going out there and getting the W[in] today with my teammates because we’ve been doubted, so it just feels good,” Powell said. “We never had a doubt, people on the outside are always going to have their opinions, but we knew what it was. We went out there and played together as the coach said, and we got the W[in].”

The victory marks the third time in MAAC Tournament history that the 11th seed advanced into the quarterfinal and is the team’s first postseason win since 2017.

Baggett, Murray and the rest of the Rider team will look to keep their season alive against Saint Peter’s, who they split two games with on Feb. 27 and 28.

“It’s going to be a battle, we got up pretty large against them in that second game,” Baggett said. “I’m sure [Head Coach Shaheen Holloway] will have those guys ready and reminding them of the last time we played them… They’re a good team and we’re a good team and I’m glad that we had a chance to show folks that we belong here.”

Rider will attempt to continue its fairytale postseason run when they once again try to slip on Cinderella’s glass slipper at 5 p.m. on March 11, facing Saint Peter’s in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals.

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