It was a tremendous weekend for Northern Ireland basketball as the UUJ men’s team went undefeated at the inter-varsities. This year’s tournament was held at the top quality sports facility at the University of Limerick, unquestionably the best basketball facility on the Island. The UUJ side competed in a tense final against UCD who boasted the talented James’ brothers and the ultra competitive [Editor: and über animated] Kevin Foley at the head coach position.
The game was close throughout but UUJ maintained their fourth-quarter lead to come out victorious thanks to clutch shooting by Letterkenny native, Aodhan Hickey, which included a deep three-pointer and a pair of free-throws [Editor: Does this mean he will finally shake the nickname ‘rookie’ to something a bit more flattering, say ‘clutch’ for example?]. A top-class and all-around quality performance from Paddy McGaharan [Editor: I wish it was in the genes – it’s not] spurred the co-captain, and final year student, onto a game-high 19-points. The 6’0 two-guard from Belfast was later announced as the Most Valuable Player of the game.
As always, it was a wonderfully enjoyable weekend, both on and off the court, for the five teams from N.I; QUB, UUJ and BMC. The Varsities tournament is notorious as one of the best events on the Irish basketball calendar [Editor: I agree…but what exactly about the weekend do people love so much?]
Conor James opened the scoring for the Men’s A final from the free throw line as a result of Aodhan Hickey’s reaching foul. Both teams showed their fine shooting touch from outside as both sides exchanged 3 pointers. Paul Cummins converted his ‘and one’ to give UUJ a narrow lead (11-10) after 5 minutes. Enda Walsh (UCD) provided some interior presence for the Dublin team and was able to draw fouls on UUJ’s Conor Johnson. Daryl Shazier (UUJ) seen the quarter out with a contested three to give the Northern university a six point lead, 21-15.
Daryl Shazier continued his hot hand by opening the second quarter with another three. Defensive stops gave UUJ the upperhand whilst UCD moved to a 3-2 zone to try and null the outside shooting ability of UUJ. Paddy McGaharan hit a pair of jumpers to extend UUJ’s lead to 28-19 and saw UCD Head Coach Kevin Foley call a time out to re-organise his team. Dan James attacked the UUJ defense and scored some heavily contested shots to bring back UCD within four points. Daryl Shazier returned the six point cushion to see the first half finish 37-31.
The third quarter began with both team trading baskets but Conor Johnson (UUJ) hit a big three with five minutes left in the third quarter to put his side up by seven points. Paddy McGaharan battled hard on offensive boards which resulted in a converted layup. Defensive stops by UCD lead by Conor James seen the lead slip to just three points. UUJ lead 48-45. The final period opened with both teams increasing their intensity lead by UCD’s Elliot Saint-Gilles going coast to coast through traffic for the floater. Aodhan Hickey responded with his own floater as he soared over the UCD defence.
Aodhan continued to torment the UCD defence by scoring a huge 3 with Dan James hand in his face to put UUJ up five points. Cathal Finn (UCD) scored five consecutive points to make it an even game with 1.09 on the clock, 61-61. Conor Johnson hit the game winning three with 40 seconds to go to. UCD had a chance to take the last shot of the game but a costly turnover and foul sent Aodhan Hickey to the line. Aodhan Hickey connected on both shots to confirm the trophy was returning to Belfast. The final score finished 67-61 and Paddy McGaharan was awarded the game’s MVP.
Source: Basketball Ireland [Editor: more specifically… thanks to Conor Lilly – happy now?]