Despite playing a team that would not go away, Bethlehem was able to hold off a pesky La Salle team on Tuesday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center by a final score of 64-58 in the Class AA quarterfinals, clinching a bid into the sectional final.
After a sluggish first quarter, trailing 11-8 to 7th-seeded La Salle, Bethlehem knew that they were in need of someone to take over or else they risked losing the game. That is when Ryan Murray of Bethlehem stepped up, scoring an incredible 13 points in the second quarter, giving the Eagles the lead for the first time in the game and allowing Bethlehem to grab a seven-point halftime advantage.
“This was a game of runs. Coach (A.G. Irons) has told us all year, and they had their runs, so it was our turn and we turned it around,” Murray said.
After taking the lead in the second quarter, Bethlehem did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the evening and was able to hold off the Cadets of La Salle even after they made it as close as a three-point game during a strong run late in the fourth quarter. This was similar to the way La Salle had to hold off Shenendehowa in the sectional quarterfinals to pull off the big upset of Saturday.
“We knew they were a good shooting team. We saw them take down Shen, but we felt like we could close out on the shooters, knew who their good players were and take care of business,” Bethlehem head coach A.G. Irons said.
During the La Salle comeback, the three-point ball played a significant role, as they hit four of them in the third quarter and seven total in the second half. Strong defensive play and hitting key free throws in the final minutes put Bethlehem over the edge, mainly coming from Matthew Riker, who hit five free throws in the final minutes as part of a 13-point night for him.
The win Tuesday marks a huge milestone in the Bethlehem basketball program, as they snap their 45-year drought of never making the sectional final, with their last appearance being in 1972.
Ryan Murray said on this accomplishment, “It’s just an amazing feeling. 1972, it’s just crazy. We haven’t seen anything like it as a program.”
Murray is really someone whom Bethlehem can thank for this, as he led the team with 23 points on the evening, highlighted by the 13-point second quarter. Hayden Thompson had 20 points for Bethlehem, and Riker with his 11 was the third-highest scorer. La Salle was led by Joe DeLollo who had 12 points, and Raymond Evans and Ian Duncan scored 11 points each.
Following the win, 3rd-seeded Bethlehem will advance to the Class AA final, where they will take on top-seeded Colonie. That game will be played on Saturday at the Glens Falls Civic Center, and tip-off is set for 8 PM.