Irish Basketball Super League 

Belfast Star 71-70 EJ Sligo All-Stars  

Belfast Star will face Templeogue this weekend in La Salle in the first round of the National Cup. It’s a tie that sees Star seek revenge for a narrow and thrilling League loss to the south Dublin side just weeks ago on the road.

Indeed, the word Thrilling could be Star’s middle name this season as Adrian Fulton’s side don’t seem to do anything by half measures.

Last Saturday evening in La Salle was a case in point. In a rollercoaster, nail-biting clash,  Star left it until the final few seconds to finally come out on top over a hugely talented Sligo side.

Sligo, newly promoted to the League this season, brought both a big travelling support and also a big reputation for their early form this season. High-scoring wins over some of the country’s top sides left no-one in any doubt about their pedigree. 

Star certainly struggled to get into the flow of the game in the first quarter against the visitors who dominated early on at either end of the court. On top of that, the home side also had immense difficulties getting the ball to drop and indeed rimmed out on more than the usual number of occasions throughout the game. 

Shon Briggs, Max Cooper and Conor Quinn just about kept Adrian Fulton’s side in it before a trademark three from club captain Conor Johnston left just four points in it at the end of the first, the visitors ahead 18-22. Veteran Johnston is currently in the form of his life and his on-court experience is proving crucial for boss Fulton so far this season.

The first five minutes of the second quarter saw defences dominate before Sligo managed to open the lead to seven points. Big threes, however, from Johnston and Aidan Quinn sparked a Star revival with Briggs and Aidan then capitalising on the home momentum to drive to a half-time lead, 39-36. 

Sligo emerged the more determined in the third quarter, though, and had soon raced into a five-point lead before two consecutive three-pointers from Briggs got Star’s noses in front again. 

This was tough, thrilling and totally intense basketball and, with the Star defence stepping up to the mark, alongside battling scores from Cooper at the low post, they managed to go into the fourth on a score of 56-52.

The packed home support was then thrilled to see early three-pointers in the final quarter from Max Richardson and Johnston. Rapturous cheers rang around the La Salle gym as the scoreboard showed that Star had suddenly forged a whole nine points clear at 64-55. Surely now there was no way back for the Sligo side.

But back they came and a seven-point surge from the visitors again put the outcome in the balance going into the final few minutes. This was as intense as it had been for a long time in La Salle as Star stood on the brink of losing their winning home record this season.

Sligo were now on a roll and scores were traded before a six-point spree from the visitors’ Cian Lally left the game level at 70 points apiece. With just 22 seconds left to play, and with the tension turned up to maximum, Shon Briggs was then fouled and went to the line. Hearts sank as his first throw missed but he nailed the second to edge his side in front. 

Sligo had one final play to try and burst the Star bubble but - when needed - the home defence stood incredibly strong to hold out for a memorable and hard-fought win, 71-70.

Head coach Fulton had mixed emotions after the game. “It was very exciting, of course, and certainly not good for the nerves. I'm not particularly happy with our performance, though – possibly the worst of the season,” he said. 

“Sligo deserve credit for that, but we also missed a lot of easy opportunities. That being said, our lads found a way to win without playing great so that's encouraging. Shon Briggs and Conor Johnston had big games for us tonight when we really needed it.”

Briggs led the way on scoring for Star with a tally of 23 points, Max Cooper scored 12, Max Richardson 10, Conor Johnston and Conor Quinn had nine apiece and Aidan Quinn hit eight.

The opening round of the National Cup against Templeogue tips off at 6.30pm in La Salle this Saturday evening.