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Murphy: 'It's great to be back' ; Hoops legend honored during Niagara loss

Toward the end of Calvin Murphy's trip down memory lane, he stopped himself. Suddenly, the Basketball Hall of Famer was choked up. The film presentation of Murphy was put on pause and all 15 people in the room listened up.

"Sometimes when you're in adversity," Murphy said, "you find out who's really behind you."

When Murphy faced charges of sexually abusing five of his daughters in 2005, friends fled. But not Niagara. The president of the university, Murphy explained, sat in the courtroom with him. So when Murphy was eventually acquitted, NU forever had a place in his heart.

Friday night, he was back.

The school's best player ever returned as part of the Legends Classic tournament NU participated in earlier this season. Murphy's presence did little to change the status quo as Niagara lost to Rider, 82-65, in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference action.

Still, for Murphy, it was special to come back.

"I always loved the place," said Murphy, now a minister of youth near Houston, "but I didn't really understand what it meant to me until adversity hit."

On the court, Niagara looked like the team foreign to these rims. While the Broncs shot 55 percent from the field, NU was 20 of 68 (29 percent). Marvin Jordan scored 18 points on six treys, while Anthony Nelson added 15.

Murphy accomplished plenty beyond his time in Lewiston. He was a 5-foot-9 dynamo who still is the Houston Rockets' all-time leader in assists. But that was nothing compared to his time in Niagara.

All game, he was engaged.

"That was a job," Murphy said of the NBA. "This is about being home and coming back home."

Throughout an hour-long film presentation in St. Vincent Hall beforehand, Murphy reminisced. The 68-point game against Syracuse. The NCAA Tournament win over Penn in 1970. The heated rivalry with St. Bonaventure -- "Hate 'em with a passion" he joked.

All along, Grainy footage of Murphy tearing apart double- and triple-teams played behind him.

It's a time that feels like light years ago for this Niagara team, which fell behind by 20 at halftime and never recovered. Rider had four players score in double-figures.

"We've got some guys that are hesitant to shoot the ball," NU coach Joe Mihalich said. "Some guys aren't believing in themselves."

Belief was never a problem for Murphy, who fired away at will with a 33.1 points per game average at NU. Friday was a chance to reflect. Having Murphy around was a breath of fresh air for the struggling Purple Eagles.

"There's not a lot of smiling going on this year," Mihalich said. "But when you see him, the first thing you do is smile."

Murphy certainly has battled adversity. But smiling the entire time, he was back in his element, mingling with the fans.

Said Murphy: "It's great to be back."

e-mail: tdunne@buffnews.com

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