Senior point guard Ajani Rodriguez supplied the clutch go-ahead 3-point play and subsequent layup during the final 92 seconds of Jacobs' 41-36 boys basketball win over McHenry Tuesday, but it was clear senior forward Daniel Murray stole the show.
In another edition of "next man up" for the Golden Eagles Murray, known for his defense, hustle and dirty work, helped Jacobs (23-3, 15-0) grab its 23rd straight Fox Valley Conference win and its ninth straight overall from a spot he's not asked of too much -- the 3-point line.
Murray canned all 3 of his 9 attempts from deep in succession bridging the first and second quarters, and his game-high 13 points was a premium besides all the hustle plays he provided throughout in a grind-out affair in McHenry.
"We know what he does and brings to the table but we've been encouraging him to shoot," said Rodriguez, who posted 12 points, 2 rebounds and many clutch plays as well. "We know what he's capable of shooting in practice and we know he can shoot the ball. So lately we've been telling him to get more shots up."
The spark Murray provided from the perimeter proved huge on a night where Jacobs shot 41 percent from the field and saw just 4 points from Kameron Mack and 3 from Nik Balkcom. Murray's last 3 with 4:50 left in the second from the top of the key put Jacobs up 22-13, prompting a McHenry (18-9, 10-4) timeout.
"I was open," Murray simply put it. "I just happened to be open. I'm usually down low, I don't usually pop out and now with (Ryan Phillips) being injured there's more shots to be taken. It felt good to make some and I think I shot more 3s than I ever shot in my whole life."
Murray still supplied the hustle after the timeout. With 1:57 left, Murray's steal led to Rodriguez's layup for a 24-13 lead. In the third after a loose ball scramble at midcourt, Murray's dive, steal and pass to Rodriguez led to a Matt McCoy layup foul. In crunchtime with the game tied at 34-34, Murray drew a charge with 4:12 left, a play that had gone McHenry's way would've put the Warriors up 2.
But Murray wasn't done and after Rodriguez drove inside with 1:32 left and converted an acrobatic shot in the lane he was fouled on, he made a key assist on Rodriguez's layup with 49.1 left for a 39-34 Jacobs lead. The tandem offset a second half where McHenry outscored Jacobs 20-8 to even things up after trailing by 12 at the half.
"Ajani's pretty incredible, he's just tough and a competitor, he's a winner and a tough, tough kid," said Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts, who turned his attention to Murray's shooting. "That's something (Daniel's) capable of, there's just so many shots on a basketball team that can be taken. But he started that loose ball frenzy that Ajani ended up finishing. Just those energy, hustle plays, it's just a great example of Ajani and Murray, of what they've brought to our program and what our program is all about."
And despite just 15 second half points after a 24-point first half, Jacobs survived McHenry's rally, kick-started by Maki Mohr's steal and dunk at the third quarter buzzer to cut the Jacobs lead to 4. Mohr (4 rebounds) finished with 6 points and Warriors leading scorer Gavin Markgraff totaled 12 while Brian March had 9 points and 4 rebounds. McHenry also shot a 41 percent clip, including a 10-for-19 showing in the second, but just ran out of gas in the final 4 minutes.
"They played about five or six guys, we played five or six guys," McHenry coach Chris Madson said. "You exert yourself. And when you're down in that hole, you have to go into fifth gear just to get it out and then when it was tied it felt like it was stalling at that point. We couldn't quite get over that exertion we let out in the third quarter, it was a little empty there."