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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Andrew Murray was pumped when Stepinac coach Tim Philp told him on Tuesday afternoon that he was slated to start for the first time in his career. It was the way Murray finished, however, that will be one of the greatest moments of his life.
Murray, a junior forward, made a fall-down fast-break layup with as time expired to lift Stepinac to a shocking 57-56 victory over CHSAA powerhouse St. Raymond in what Philp said was the program’s biggest win of the decade.
Stepinac, which trailed almost the entire game, led 55-54 with 30 seconds to play following a Quarry Greenaway free throw. Out of a timeout, the Ravens worked the ball to Shane Rector, who made a running jumper from the inside the foul line with nine seconds on the clock.
The Crusaders, though, immediately inbounded the ball to Tyler Iacuone. The Mahopac resident dribbled twice and threw a pass up court to a streaking Murray with the seconds dwindling. Murray caught it and made reverse layup over a defender, crashing to the ground as the ball hit the backboard.
“Once St. Ray’s made their shot, I knew there was time,” Murray said. “I went down and I saw Tyler passing the ball and I knew I had to get it. It was tipped at the rim but it went in.”
The ball settled into the net with just over three seconds on the clock. The St. Raymond players — clearly in shock — looked at each other while the ball sat on the baseline. Nobody inbounded the ball and time expired.
“I saw (Murray) running down the court and I saw (St. Ray’s) celebrating because they had just scored,” Iacuone said. “Murray was running hard and I just through it and he got it and made the lay-up.”
Given the way the first half transpired, there was little thought of Stepinac making any sort of run. St. Raymond took a 24-14 lead into the half as the Crusaders struggled to get any open looks against a bigger, quicker Ravens defense.
“They’re a good defensive team,” Iacuone said. “But we really struggled in the first half. I couldn’t make a shot. But the other guys picked it up.”
It was Stepinac’s ability to hit free throws in the third quarter that got it back in the game. After not going to the line once in the first half, the Crusaders hit 11 of 12 in the third as they kept the deficit at eight.
The Crusaders scored the first seven points of the fourth before a Lorenzo Rojas 3-pointers and a Nkeruwem Okoro basket pushed the lead back to 47-41. Murray and Naim Thomas followed with contested lay-ups for Stepinac, which trailed 50-45 with under three minutes to play.
Josh James took over from there. The junior star had a put-back over St. Ray’s big men Daniel Dingle and Okoro, and then converted a pretty and-one off a baseline drive to tie the game.
“Most of the game I strugged,” said James, who scored nine of his 16 points in the fourth and had six assists. “My coach told me to stop settling and attack the rim. That’s what I did.”
The teams traded baskets and then two free throws each, tying the game at 54-54 in the final minute. Greenaway, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds, sank a free throw to put the Crusaders ahead for the first time all game — setting up the wild final possessions.
Dingle led the Ravens with 21 points and seven rebounds, and Rector added 20 points and six boards.
St. Raymond, which is ranked 18 in the latest MSG Varsity Tri-State poll, has lost three in a row.
Stepinac has won three straight. None of them — in the past week or maybe even the last decade in the regular season — is bigger than Tuesday.
“This is a good win to have under the belt,” Iacuone said. “I’m sure, down the road, it’s going to help us. We know that we if beat them, we can beat anyone.”
Email Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org