Irish Basketball Super League

Belfast Star 94 Tralee Warriors 85

Max Cooper hit a game-high total of 28 points in a barn-storming Belfast Star win last weekend over a hotly fancied Tralee Warriors side.

He was one of six Star players to reach double figures in what was easily the side’s best performance of the season.

With head Coach Adrian Fulton absent due to Covid-19, his assistant Gerard Ryan had called on the Star side to introduce more belief in themselves after some inconsistent recent performances. He even suggested the side should play with a little more ‘swagger’ in their game.

“Myself and Adrian had been waiting for the side to really gel. They’ve been threatening it at times over the season, but it really clicked into place on Saturday night,” said Ryan. 

“With Tralee riding high in the League, we knew it was going to be tough, but our guys got into their flow very early and never relented after that.”

Star did indeed start in style. Jonny Foulds and Ryan’s son Conor had them ahead in the early moments before Max Cooper began to dominate, notching up 12 points in the first quarter alone.

American James Claar then came into it in the second, mopping up several rebounds and shooting ten points of his own to give Star the lead at half-time, 45-38.

In his pre-match notes, coach Ryan had highlighted Star’s inconsistencies within games as something they needed to rectify. Previously, they had made it hard for themselves with a poor quarter here and there. 

On Saturday, however, they started the third determined not to let things slip. Whenever the Kerry visitors threatened to cut the deficit, there was always a quick Star rally to maintain a solid advantage.

Conor Ryan at point guard, extending his impressive form this season, hit a quick five points midway through the quarter to thwart a 9-point run from Tralee. That inspired Cooper, Claar and Austin Beech to hit their own 9-2 run to leave it 69-55 for Star going into the fourth.

If the capacity home crowd were to have a moment of panic, it came early in the final quarter when a 14-5 flurry from Tralee brought it close.

However, a big three-pointer from the impressive Conor Quinn prompted Cooper and Beech back to normal service, meaning Star eased to their win in the end.

After the game, Gerard Ryan was quick to praise his side’s performance, especially his defence which kept the sharp-shooting Tralee side at bay.

“It was great to see the team getting the scores they deserved but I thought that both Austin Beech and Conor Quinn were terrific in defence," he noted.

"Tralee’s American, Aaron Calixte is the best player in the Super League, but Austin and Conor were all over him throughout.”

Star have to do it all again this weekend, however, when they make the long journey to Ballincollig to take on the undefeated Cork side.

“Yes, another tough one,” said Ryan. “But you could see how pumped up our players were after this win, so they’ll go to Ballincollig with terrific confidence.”

Star’s leading scorers were Max Cooper, 28 points; Austin Beech and James Claar on 14; Conor Ryan and Conor Quinn on 13; and Jonny Foulds on 12.