Blackstone 72 – 63 North Star
Blackstone won a hard-fought victory tonight (Sunday) to go within one point of their visitors in the Premier League and increase the likelihood of securing a play-off berth with just one league game remaining.
Ballymena opened the game in a furious fashion, with Marty McDonald forcing his team onto the front foot at pace. Blackstone had fast break scores from four different players in quick succession, but it was Adam Hillis who stood out most of all for the Braid men in a first quarter that saw them run up a 23 point lead.
Hillis (recently interviewed by TCC’s Tony McGaharan) has been a leading light for Blackstone this term, particularly in a sub-par first half of the season, and he did his chances of individual season honours no harm at all with yet another 10 points, numerous assists and defensive work ethic.
In fact, Hillis was by no means the only Blackstone player to make a significant contribution in the game. Playing with a depleted squad of just seven players (one unused), it was the strength of the team overall that saw the Ballymena men through yet another tough test. All five of the Blackstone starters finished the game with double-figure scoring stats, McNicholl and McDonald leading with 17 apiece.
Hillis (recently interviewed by TCC’s Tony McGaharan) has been a leading light for Blackstone this term
Despite starting poorly – they didn’t adapt to the pace of the game quickly enough; nor did they shoot well initially – North Star were a different team in the second quarter. Blackstone’s 1-3-1 zone had been resolute in the opening period but North Star stretched it well in the second, finding space inside and shifting away from their early dependence on an unusually ineffective 3-point game.
North Star’s switch to a zone defence themselves did not see a corresponding shift of offensive track from the host team (who struggled to adjust to the changing tempo of the game) and this gave extra impetus to the steady convergence of the scores.
However, Blackstone’s twenty-three point lead proved insurmountable for North Star and they were left to rue their first quarter underperformance.
Daryl Harkin and Kevin Stanley led the fight back for the visitors, and both put in performances worthy of high praise. Harkin showed a mixture of resilience skill that has become a trademark of his game, making him one of the league’s top guards and a focal point of his team. Stanley was particularly effective on the offensive end, top-scoring in the game with 19 points.
If the first half was topsy-turvy, helter-skelter, the second half was anything but. After the half-time break, the game became much more the sort of encounter everyone had expected. Both teams were evenly matched throughout the third and fourth quarters, with only two points separating them (in North Star’s favour).
The two teams went score-for-score as the game became increasingly physical, providing a tough test for the referees (Fintan Colgan and John Coey) who coped well with the challenge.
The two teams went score-for-score as the game became increasingly physical
Blackstone and North Star both found themselves in team fouls in the final period and, with Ballymena holding a narrow four point lead, large parts of the remainder of the game were spent on the foul line. North Star lost Daryl Harkin to foul trouble late in the fourth, much to his own team’s detriment and Marty McDonald effectively sealed the game from the line.
Both teams are in action again this Saturday, with North Star at home to Belfast Star at 2.30pm and Blackstone travelling to Kilkeel for a 6pm tip-off.