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Ulster Elks v Kilkeel Knights – Men’s Premier League Semi-Final
From the outset of this game, it became apparent that the victor would be decided through rebounding tenacity and aggression, as the Elks’ Connolly and Kilkeel’s Banys clashed within the key for supremacy. The elegant and economical style of play that has become the Elks’ trademark was obvious to all present – however, despite many great looks being available, the Elks often failed to complete ostensibly easy scores, leading to rising frustrations early in the game. Kilkeel initially appeared unsettled, with high defensive pressure in the post from Paddy McGaharan forcing the sizeable Banys to the perimeter. This physical intensity subtly shifted to Kilkeel’s advantage as they turned to the pick and roll, as a tendency to overcommit on defense allowed easy hand-off passes for lay-ins from Kiselius and Danys, as well as creating a vacuum, sucking in perimeter defense allowing for three pointers from Banys and Galdikas. Elks’ Shazier sank two long range shots midway through the quarter, almost rejuvenating his team and leading to a medley of scores inside from Gallagher, Crothers and Connolly – and so the first quarter ended, hotly contested, 17-16 to Elks.
[singlepic id=23 w=320 h=240 float=left]The Elks’ motion offense became invaluable in the second quarter, giving rise to an overload allowing increased penetration, with a 3-point play off the lay-up and hard foul coming from O’Dornan. Intense interior defense still caused the Knights to take forced shots from the top of the key and the perimeter – however, despite contestation, these were often made. We witnessed a barrage of three pointers amidst this quarter, with scores from the Knights’ Galdikas and the Elks’ Shazier and Crothers occurring in quick succession. Tempers began to rise here, with a heated exchange requiring intervention from the officials between Connolly and Banys taking place as the physical nature of the game increased. The score differential changed constantly in this quarter, with Jordanstown sacrificing a 6 point lead due to poor shot selection and lack of rebounding, which was later clawed back through a timely press, under which Kilkeel crumbled in the backcourt – allowing two steals for the lay in from Hickey. A late three-point score from Kairys reminded us of the predatory danger of Kilkeel from long range and tightened the gap at the half to 39-35.
The nature of the game appeared stunningly different in the third, with Kilkeel simply denying scores within the paint – and exhaustion appeared to be a large factor here, with the Elks’ shooting percentage dropping dramatically as they scored only 4 points in this quarter. The shooting prowess of the Knights was displayed openly here, as Banys and Danys combined and connected for 14 points and it appeared hope was lost in the Elks’ camp as the situation worsened, leaving Kilkeel leading, 43-52.
[singlepic id=85 w=320 h=240 float=right]The final period was again a reversal, with Ulster Elks now scoring 23 to the Knight’s 10. The effectiveness of Kilkeel’s Banys cannot be disputed here, as he finished repeatedly from range under pressure whenever Kilkeel’s offensive manoeuvres broke down. The Elks initially appeared to struggle under Kilkeel’s zone press, with avoidable turnovers leading to frustrating scores, yet ultimately the Elks continued to battle their way across the floor, with the repeated scoring of Shazier vital here. Veteran Gary Connolly personally displayed the power of determination, with two successive scores at a crucial juncture from a put-back and a transition lay-up, tying the game after a previously insurmountable-seeming lead by Kilkeel. Repeated fouling here led to successful trips to the charity stripe for Shazier and Connolly, with the slashing skill of O’Dornan leading to 6 points from hand-offs in these final minutes, which were partly answered back with a flourish by Kilkeel, with flashy turnaround jumpers from the elbow. An Elks intentional foul led to free throws for Kiselius, who connected on the first, with a clutch 3-point basket then gained from the offensive rebound, narrowing Jordanstown’s lead to 2. Daryl Shazier again drove the key, finding the corner pass to Crothers, who connected for the long 2, sealing the victory for the Ulster Elks with 8 seconds remaining, 66-62.
D. Shazier, 26 points
T. Banys, 14 point
Belfast Star v Dungannon Cavaliers – Men’s Premier League Semi-Final
[singlepic id=27 w=320 h=240 float=left]This game was truly a clash between the pinnacles of athleticism and physicality respectively, with Star stealing several early fast break opportunities, yet immediately displaying an inability to contain dominant centre Bastakys. The colossal specimen planted himself in the key in a timely fashion, and with no answer to his bulk emerging from the opposing side, scored in a truly unstoppable and juggernaut-esque fashion, when not simply inhaling offensive rebounds. Star’s passing acumen was on display here, as they garnered a quick 6 point lead from penetration and subtle dishes beneath the basket – however, the Cavaliers soon became wise to this tactic, blocking the key and forcing low percentage and off-balance runners, This, combined with a somewhat strained and spread Star defense led to a narrowing of their early lead and tt appeared that transition ‘quick-hit’ strikes would be vital for Star’s success – in essence, a score was needed before Bastakys could reach the defensive end. However, the heavy involvement of Macekas, gathering steals and rebounds, ensured difficulty with this tactic and left both teams in deadlock entering the second, 16-16.
[singlepic id=31 w=320 h=240 float=right]The instigation of a Star press in the second proved problematic for the Cavaliers, with their lack of discipline and somewhat maverick tendencies resulting in several turnovers for easy scores from McCotter and Mullan. However, when the Cavaliers managed to cross the halfway line, the result was predictable and almost inevitable – a forceful and powerhouse manoeuvre inside the key leading to the lay-in. The legendary presence of the Cavaliers on the three point line was successfully diminished here repeatedly by the high-pressure Star defense, and the offensive spread operated by the Belfast side effectively dragged Bastakys from the key on numerous occasions, allowing the quick penetration for the basket. Combining this with two transition lay-ups from McCotter in the final minute of the period, the Cavaliers’ lead was cut to a mere three at the half (31-34), and as fatigue for both sides began became apparent, the outcome of this game was anyone’s guess.
Dungannon obviously reasserted themselves in this quarter, dominating the key with an array of scores, including the pretty spin and finish from Saulytis, soon allowing a 7-point lead to arise. The analytical nature of Star basketball kept the team in the game, as backdoor cuts were exploited through deceptive passing for the lay-in by Mullan. Notable here was the hard drive and finish with the foul by Star’s Ashe and McKillop, allowing them a tentative and quickly forsaken 1-point lead in this quarter. Outstanding here was Star’s Johnston, who remained focused and collected, finishing two three-pointers and two free throws from the painful foul. Nevertheless, foul trouble began to rear its ugly head as Bastakys was awarded repeated trips to the line alongside several scores in the paint, yet Star remained well in contention, 53-49.
[singlepic id=35 w=320 h=240 float=left]Internal problems within the Cavaliers led to the re-ignition of hope for Star as they narrowed the lead by a further point to 53-50, but found it difficult to come closer– a three-point play by Kersis off the putback led to building of the Cavaliers’ momentum and what can only be described as a ‘steamroller effect’, as they ran roughshod over Belfast Star and re-established a 7 point lead. But with two minutes left, a further three-pointer from Johnston cut the lead to 3, with a free throw reducing this to 2. The crowd watched with bated breath as Star made yet another defensive stop and made their way up the floor – but a silly turnover ended a chance to take the lead, as Sadauskas drained the three, followed by the quick two from Macikas. A free throw and 3-pointer from McKillop left Star down 3 with 31 seconds remaining and intentional fouls by Burns and Ashe to stop the clock and force the free throws led to little success as Cavaliers were victorious, 72-65.
Tyrone Towers v Lisburn 94 – Ladies’ Final
[singlepic id=70 w=320 h=240 float=left]The result of this game immediately appeared unforeseeable – with Lisburn having acquired three victories over Towers in the regular season, yet Dungannon were still abuzz from recent victories; and with a large supporting crowd, many wondered what would happen if they established their momentum. The game opened with a three-pointer for Towers from the talented Rafferty and excellent ball movement found Fay under the basket for the score. A further three from Rafferty led to an 8-2 Towers lead, ominous for the game to come. Lisburn’s Smye connected for the tough two in the paint, and the team’s effective ball movement here ensured that shooting success would soon come. Tower’s rebounding strength seemed to be the major issue here however, with Rafferty and Gallagher working collectively under the basket on the offensive end, while eventual MVP McCrory displayed her calibre here with two contested shots off the pivot from the elbow. Lisburn upped their intensity here and through the aggression of F. Dick and Fairbairn, secured several rebounds for the second-chance score – yet the lack of penetration made it difficult to narrow the differential and so the quarter ended, 8-16 Towers.
[singlepic id=65 w=320 h=240 float=right]Lisburn’s offense improved immensely in this second period, as they refused to allow Towers to set and found the open shot through quick rotation – with S. Dick and Smye proving their mettle here and connecting on several shots from the wing. Walsh also displayed her abilities, with a deft crossover and stepback jumper from the corner. However, while Towers’ scoring was reduced in this quarter, the side could not be sufficiently contained – with Colgan displaying both scoring ability and vision, running the fast break alternately for the score and the precision pass for the lay-in. Towers came to the half with a comfortable lead 18-24.
Both sides appeared well-matched in the third, yet Lisburn here secured a lead for the first time in the game, with foolish Towers turnovers and the high percentage shooting of Fairbairn from the wing resulting in the swing. The effective baseline play of Towers however countered this, and McCrory was again stellar from the elbow and so Towers regained their lead, 30-34.
[singlepic id=73 w=320 h=240 float=left]In the final period, both teams went score for score in the opening minutes, with Lisburn refusing to submit – a 3 from Smye saw the lead fall to a single point. Fast break lay ups at either end resulted in a score of 37-38 with 3 minutes remaining, when two successive steals and lay-ups by Rafferty proved immensely decisive, and Lisburn decided to play the foul game. A further lay-in by Rafferty increased the gap to 6, yet this was answered back by Walsh with a lay-up and free throw. With twenty seconds remaining, and a score of 40-43, Colgan was sent twice to the free throw line, making two of four and Dungannon emerge champions, 40-45.
S. Dick 12 points
N. Rafferty, E McCrory 12 points
MVP: E McCrory
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Tyrone Towers v Down Tropics – Promotion/Relegation Playoff
[singlepic id=54 w=320 h=240 float=right]Of all the games, this was perhaps the most desperate contest – Tyrone Towers sought to accede to the Premier League, while the Belfast Tropics fought to avoid relegation. The game almost appeared to be a display of athletic manoeuvres and skills, with Towers’ Kelly opening the game with a circus shot, followed by the 3 amidst pressure from Girvan. Tyrone appeared to run away with the game almost immediately, having reached a score of 15-5 merely 4 minutes into the quarter. The Tropics press did not faze the Tyrone men – quick movement of the ball spread the press unevenly to one side, allowing uncontested lay ups. The star of the show for Tropics was naturally Celms, displaying a dazzling array of jumpshot options and scoring the entirety of his team’s points in this period. Also noteworthy was Towers’ veteran Gallagher, whose speed appears undiminished as he repeatedly raced down the court for the easy lay-up. This quarter, unreflective of the game as a whole, ended with Towers leading 16-27.
[singlepic id=49 w=320 h=240 float=right]Celms and Whann functioning as partners in this game, working in tandem for the pick and pop for dead-eye shooter Celms, with Whann using his height and athleticism to effectively clean up any mess. The Towers run-and-gun style of play was difficult for the Down team to work with, with Gallagher outrunning entire generations, yet the Tropics eventually found the correct balance of defensive pressure and forced 24 second violations, thus slowly eating away at the Tyrone lead. Celms, of course, contributed points that are, strictly speaking, ridiculous. The game continued in this manner throughout the second and third periods, gradually becoming closer, and so we reach the end of the third quarter with the tight score of 59-61.
[singlepic id=41 w=320 h=240 float=left]In the final period, Towers displayed their true passing range for several impressive fast breaks, but Celms managed to swing a 2 point lead for his side. A forced turnover les to a Tyrone three followed by a free throw, yet an open lay-up from McKenna squared the game with 1:30 remaining. After a Tyrone lay-up, Celms missed the free throw to tie the game, 81-82, and another Tyrone score followed with twenty seconds remaining. Celms made two free throws and Whann completed the lay-in, to give Tropics a one-point lead, but Tyrone’s Gallagher stepped up and nailed two free throws to clinch the game, as time then expired and Towers emerged as the League’s newest Premier League side.
G. Celms 53 pts (seriously)
J. Kelly 25 pts
Ulster Elks v Dungannon Cavaliers – Men’s Premier League Final
This is it. The one we’ve been waiting for. Game on.
[singlepic id=80 w=320 h=240 float=left]In the opening minutes, the Cavaliers performed well, almost rendering the defense irrelevant and finding several scooping scores in the key. The Elks’ Connolly found a simple solution to this – prevent dominant Bastakys from entering the key in the first place, bumping the centre any time he made a move towards the basket. Jordanstown executed an exemplary level of ball movement, playing an aesthetic style of basketball revolving around penetration and powerful dishes to open up channels. At this point, it seemed that an Ulster victory would not come easy, due to the Cavaliers’ forceful presence around the rim and thus the need for Jordanstown to result to heavy fouls to prevent easy scores. Daryl Shazier again occupied a critical role in the Jordanstown programme, finding Crother in the corner for two three-pointers and adding five points of his own here, with Hickey also adding four. Cavaliers were typically centred around Bastakys and the long range shooting of Macekas and Siaulytis, yet were limited in their scoring here, with Jordanstown leading 24-13.
[singlepic id=39 w=320 h=240 float=right]It felt very much in the second that the Cavaliers were playing in Jordanstown’s game – every offense was executed precisely and defensively speaking, the Cavaliers were somewhat chastened due to aggression beneath the basket. Indeed, it appeared unusually that the Cavaliers struggled to find a score except in transition as fatigue began to set in for both sides and unforced errors and turnovers began to arise. Shazier began a streak of lights-out shooting, completing 4 three-pointers in this period as well as several lay-ups, and already the MVP chants began. Bastakys began to re-assert himself, adding 8 points in this quarter, but one wondered if it was too little, too late, as UUJ romped to the half, 46-34.
The battle for victory raged on in the key, and Jordanstown cleverly took to the perimeter for several long twos from Hickey, Crothers and Shazier. Squandered fouls began to be a problem as for once, the Cavaliers were not the more physical team, and Macekas took to the line repeatedly. However, Dungannon appeared to be crumbling from within and it seemed the game was sealed, 66-48.
[singlepic id=88 w=320 h=240 float=left]The expertise of Shazier was again flaunted in the final quarter as he utilised his speed and first-step to secure a drive to the basket for the pretty dish. Bastakys was effectively shut down by help defense and with a score of 82-54 with 3 minutes remaining, the result was all too apparent. Shazier contributed a further two 3 pointers and a lay-up, finalising his MVP credentials, and as Jordanstown magnanimously let the ball roll away as time expired, they became champions, 91-60.
While it showcased an impressive display of basketball, the final wasn’t the game I expected – not to take away from the victory by the Ulster Elks in any way, as they still performed superbly, but in my humble opinion, the large defeat was heavily due to the fact that the Dungannon Cavaliers simply succumbed to their exhaustion from enduring three tough games within 24 hours. Nonetheless, congratulations to the new Premier League champions!
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D. Shazier 34 pts
S. Bastakys, E. Siaulytis 14pts
MVP: Darryl Shazier