Blackstone 90 point total inspires confidence for some; concern for others.

The Magic Number

It is Sunday night. The final game of week 14 in the BNI Premier League is nearing its end. Coach McKee sends his starting five out onto the floor to see out the remainder of a crucial game. In truth, his bench has performed solidly to secure the win already. The buzzer sounds. The score line is emphatic; the celebrations are muted. The repercussions, untold.

The score line is emphatic; the celebrations are muted. The repercussions, untold.

Blackstone’s 90-64 win over the A-Town Tigers at the weekend saw them halt an inexorable slide towards relegation and reignite the fire of self-belief in their players and coaching staff. Four games without a win and bottom of the league, they were heading for the trapdoor.

The Tigers, like their hosts, have been in free-fall. Seven games since their last victory (a 10 point win over…Blackstone), they badly needed the three points.

Cesoni and Fox contributed double scoring figures with 24 and 15 points

But this was the week last year’s semi-finalists turned up to play.

It wasn’t that the Tigers played particularly poorly; Cesoni and Fox contributed double scoring figures with 24 and 15 points respectively. In fact, 64 points has been the winning score (give-or-take) in no less than 8 premier league games this season, not least last week’s excruciatingly narrow 58-59 defeat for A-Town at the hands of LYIT.

For Blackstone, Coach McKee has long picked out 90 points as the ‘magic number’ that his team needs to feel confident of the win, and on Sunday night his team reached it comfortably. It is only the second time Blackstone have reached McKee’s golden target all year, losing the other game 92-96 at Kilkeel, the league’s second-top scorers.

Who are the season’s top scorers so far? Blackstone.

That Blackstone sit third-bottom after Sunday and are the league’s highest scorers at present only reflects the standard of defensive play in the Premier Division at present.

Queens are the maestros of the grind-out apparently: six of their twelve games this season have been won with a score of 75 points or fewer. The Elks, if they win their game in hand, will go just one point behind the leaders but have conceded the fewest points in the division (excluding Belfast Star, who have only played 9).

And so it is that as Blackstone hurtled towards the vaunted 90, A-Town must have been feeling like the basketball gods were against them. Whether there was any hangover from the previous week’s sucker-punch by LYIT is hard to tell, but it must surely have weighed on the minds of some Tigers players as they entered the fourth quarter trailing by thirty-three (78-45).

What was the secret of Blackstone’s offensive success?

There needs to be plenty of movement and no standing around

No secret it seems; just movement, according to Coach McKee: “I’m going to speak to the boys about motion in the offence”, he insisted before the game. “There needs to be plenty of movement and no standing around”, he added.

The home side must have been listening because their response was imperious. They opened the game with surging energy and a controlled intensity that has been lacking for much of the season.

 They’ve long been a high-scoring, run-and-gun, shot-happy offence

Fluid movement in the offence and responsible passing created the kind of shooting opportunities that the Ballymena guards needed to thrive. They’ve long been a high-scoring, run-and-gun, shot-happy offence; but with poor movement and passing, they stagnate.

Shooting percentages have been abysmal (as low as 21% in some quarters of games this season), but not this week. Not with league survival on the line.

The Blackstone shooting threat had come back from sabbatical with much work to catch up on. Four players reached double figures for Ballymena: A Murray, M Murray, A Hillis and M McDonald, while McDonald led the game with 28.

he must be one of the best players in Irish basketball; I could watch him play all day

The key change for Blackstone this week was (in this coach’s opinion) the switch from McDonald to Murray at PG for large parts of the game.

Murray’s performance in the game drew admiration from a number of spectators, with elite referee John Hegarty (watching, not reffing!) asserting that “he must be one of the best players in Irish basketball; I could watch him play all day.”

Blackstone played with a high tempo and much intensity, but there was a much more relaxed feeling amongst the players and a greater sense of control.

Murray’s spell of professional basketball in France has served him well and it was his composure with the ball that allowed the offence to play with the freedom and fluidity that comes from being relaxed. This was particularly true for McDonald who looked much more like the player we all know he can be.

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. Blackstone will need more of the same if they are to win in Letterkenny this Thursday night.

If they do, things will become very intense in the lower half of the table.

If A-Town lose to Star, which seems likely, and Blackstone get what will be an incredibly tough win in Letterkenny, the Tigers look doomed. Such set of results would pull LYIT back into danger of finishing in the 9th place relegation play-off spot that everyone will be looking to avoid.

With a Blackstone win, Star will remain second-bottom. However, with a number of games in hand they could and should climb up and away from danger.

Mr McDermott does it every Sunday night

Poor travellers North Star may struggle in Jordanstown, and the unpredictable Cavs have their work cut out on the road to Queens. Losses for both away teams would leave them status quo, but a Cavs win in their game in hand  would vault them above the Derry men into 4th or 5th place.

If results go as predicted, both here and elsewhere on the site, the potential situation at the bottom is that four points will separate Star, Blackstone, LYIT, Cavs and North Star next week. Potential wins would then be in hand for Belfast Star and Dungannon.

As the shuffle for position at the bottom nears its end, I predict that the relegation contest will settle around four clubs: Andersonstown Tigers, LYIT, Blackstone and North Star.

Dare I make a firm prediction?

Mr McDermott does it every Sunday night here on The Courtside Collective, so why not?

Hayestradamus predicts the bottom half of the BNI Premier League table to finish like this…

6. Belfast Star

7. North Star

8. Blackstone


10. Anderstonstown Tigers


Prove me wrong. Or post your protest below.


R. Hayes




Ryan is a sports fanatic who came late to basketball having tried his hand at rugby, football and cricket in his formative years. He played in Ballymena for ten years, representing Team Grouse/Team Blackstone and has served as de facto Assistant Coach there in recent times. For nine of those years, Ryan led the Blackstone youth programme and assisted Paul McKee at St Patrick’s College, where they were crowned All-Ireland Schools champions in 2009. He has also introduced basketball to schools such as Limavady Grammar, Coleraine Inst and Ballymena Academy, where he currently works as an English teacher. In 2011 Ryan realised basketball was at its most beautiful played at a fast pace and subsequently hung up his one-speed Nikes. These days, he sticks to running, football and jujitsu.


  1. Niall McDermott

    / Reply

    Getting ready to prove you wrong tonight!

  2. Conor

    / Reply

    LYIT 69-59 Blackstone

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