Irish Basketball Super League

Belfast Star 100 Neptune 95

It’s National Cup time again for Belfast Star and this weekend they make the trip to Cork’s UCC Demons in the quarter-final of the competition that they would love to win for the first time, despite coming very close on several occasions down through the years.

In the past number of seasons, however, the Pat Duffy Cup has certainly been unkind to Star, no matter what their form had been like otherwise.

Still, Star will certainly enter the Mardyke Arena as marginal favourites buoyed by their current superb league performances having now made it nine wins in a row after last Saturday evening’s game in La Salle against another Cork side, Neptune.  

The result means that Adrian Fulton’s men still remain the only unbeaten side in the Men’s Super League, although the win over Neptune did come with several scary moments towards the end of an entertaining and free-flowing encounter.

The game marked the return to La Salle of Star old-boy Shon Briggs who received a very warm welcome from the home fans who relished his time with the club over the past two seasons.

Once the welcome was out of the way, however, it was down to business and Briggs was certainly a big part of driving the visitors into a first-quarter lead of seven points, 19-26.

Going into the second, Star wore away at the Neptune lead until a Max Richardson three-pointer levelled the affair after the home side had gone on an eight-point run. 

Star then continued to surge ahead and made it to half-time with a 54-43 margin having actually double-scored their opponents 35-17 during a highly productive quarter.

It was level pegging for a lot of the early exchanges in the third before Star began to pull away again and a pair of free-throws from American De’Ondre Jackson stretched the home lead to a maximum on the night of 19 points. The quarter ended with Star comfortably ahead, 80-64.

So far, so good, for high-riding Star. But the Briggs-inspired visitors still had some juice in their tank. Scores from Briggs, Sabata and Irish internationals Cian Heaphy and Jordan Blount ate into the Star lead before a fine three-pointer from Neptune’s US professional Jonathan Lawton brought the margin to just four points, 87-83.

Suddenly, it was game on as both the Star players and the home support didn’t seem to quite understand what was happening before their eyes. Having been comfortably in the driving seat, the Star offence had somehow simply gone missing.

Moments later, the game really was in the melting pot when a Briggs three brought it to a one-point game, 87-86 with a full three minutes to play.

That was the wake-up call the Star players needed and, going into the stretch, they fought hard to successfully quell the Neptune rally, managing to maintain a one-point lead with the score having edged to 91-90.

A two-pointer from Jackson then gave Star a sliver of breathing space going into the final 30 seconds. Two more points from Tamyrick Fields meant that Neptune had a lot to do in a very small amount of time and the final moments saw a flurry of free throws to bring it to an end on 100-95.

Afterwards, coach Fulton admitted it was quite an unplanned ending to say the least. 

“Well, we were comfortably ahead and then simply stopped scoring,” he said.

“Neptune certainly grabbed the momentum and they really had us under the cosh for so much of the fourth.

“But the guys didn’t crumble. They all showed their character by toughing it out towards the end and coming up with the big plays when they really had to. That says a lot about the spirit within the squad.”

Focusing on the National Cup clash with Demons next week, Fulton added: “Of course we know it’s going to be tough next week. Form goes out the window in the Cup. We have a long trip to Cork and there’s certainly always plenty to work on in training.”

Top performers for Star against Neptune were De’Ondre Jackson with 39 points, Tamyrik Fields on 23, and Max Richardson on 19. 

Richardson was also proficient on the boards as well with 10 rebounds while Fields and Oisin Kerlin had 8 and 6 respectively. For Neptune, Shon Briggs top-scored with 30 points.