McQuaid Jesuit senior Jack Murphy was unsure if he would even see the court when an Aquinas lead cut the Knights’ lead to three with 3:20 remaining. Murphy, the team’s manager, got to suit up for Senior Night but was not guaranteed playing time.
At the buzzer, he was at the bottom of a pile of adoring students and teammates. It was that kind of game for the five-point scorer and the rest of the Knights, who had to earn that memorable moment and 93-80 victory after the Li’l Irish made it anything but easy.
“I don’t think we were super consistent defensively,” Knights coach Jack Leasure remarked. “But I thought we got off to a really good start and the energy level was really great all night. Just a couple things in the middle of the game that we lapsed on that allowed the game to get tighter there, but we played really tough down the stretch.”
Aquinas junior Wesley Henderson hit the three-pointer that made it a one-possession game, which halfway through the first quarter would have seemed like an impossible task.
McQuaid scored the first 15 points of the game until AQ sophomore Miles Blackwood got the Irish on the board with a traditional three-point play at the 4:13 mark. The Knights’ answer was an 11-0 run to extend the advantage to 26-3. Knights seniors Jermaine Taggart, Kobe Long and Keith Warren each scored 10 first-quarter points, but AQ closed the quarter on an 11-6 run that included three three-pointers.
Any time the Irish got close in the first three quarters, McQuaid dealt a punishing run. The lead was cut to 34-24 early in the second quarter after AQ opened the period on a 10-2 run; McQuaid countered with a 12-0 run to go up 22. AQ narrowed the lead to 13 twice in the third quarter; Knights guard Kobe Long answered with a layup both times.
The fourth quarter was the time for the Irish to make a push. They had ended the third on an 8-2 run to bring themselves within 11. A minute into the fourth, the lead was cut to single-digits for the first time since 9-0.
Henderson scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including two threes, to nearly bring the Irish all the way back. After his momentous three-pointer, however, McQuaid scored seven unanswered points to stretch the game back to double-digits. Henderson was fouled at the other end and made one of two, then came up with a steal but missed a layup that would have made it a seven-point game.
“We got a big lead early in the game and sort of took our mind away from the defensive end of the floor,” Leasure said. “So we just sort of tried to get back to focusing on guarding at a high level. We came out of the timeout, Keith Warren hit a big shot and we got a couple stops to get some separation. But Aquinas was really tough to come back and make that game as close as it was.”
Long, as he often does, made two clutch free throws to ice the game and finish with 25 points. He was two shy of Taggart’s game-leading 27-point total. Warren was the third teammate in double-figures with 14.
But the number everyone talked about after was five. Even Jason “J-Mac” McElwain, who had the most famous manager playing performance 14 years ago this week, was there to witness Murphy’s night.
The first bucket showcased the senior’s IQ, which got him accepted into Boston College. He made a nifty backdoor cut, got a great feed from Long and scored the layup. But what he really wanted was a three, which he swished at the buzzer off Warren’s dish.
“I’m not gonna lie; last night I watched videos of J-Mac,” Murphy said. “I’m inspired by that guy. He texted me actually, on Tuesday, and said, ‘Dream it, do it.’ I just practiced a lot and I shot the shot… I had doubts, but once I got my chance I just let it work.”
Taggart and Murphy had discussed that very moment all the way back in 2016, when Murphy looked forward to his chance to suit up in a Knights uniform. No one was happier for Murphy than his classmate.
“It’s probably the best thing in McQuaid history; it’s definitely top three,” Taggart said with a smile. “It was just fun seeing my friend Jack Murphy finally get the opportunity to live out a dream… I’m just glad it finally came true.”
McQuaid scorers: Taggart 27, Long 25, Warren 14, Reuben Daniel 7, Jack Murphy 5, Joe Cairns 4
Aquinas scorers: Henderson 25, Bleier 15, Gabe Miller 14, Jack Scanlon 9, Myles Blackwood 8, Mykel White 4, Jordan Jordan 3, Will Scanlon 2