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National League basketball: Killarney’s new favourite team are off to a flyer

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National League (Division 1), Scotts Lakers 76, Dublin Lions 75

KILLARNEY’S return to National League basketball may have been long overdue but Saturday night’s pulsating season opener was well worth the wait. Over 500 eager spectators packed into the Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre to see St Paul’s (playing under the Scotts Lakers banner) get their Division 1 campaign up and running - and not a single home supporter left disappointed.

With Bulgarian guard Mihail Kapitanov pulling the strings and local lads Andrew Fitzgerald and Pádraig Lucey making their presence felt down low, the Lakers raced into an 8-3 lead. The Dublin Lions responded well, however, and some sloppy offense from the home team helped the visitors to go on a 12-0 run. The Lakers rallied but a three-point buzzer-beater from Zach Burnett meant the Lions led by 8 (15-23) at the end of the first.

Both teams looked a little shaky in the opening quarter which, to be fair, is totally understandable. For many players it was their first time lining out together in a competitive game and there were bound to have been some opening night jitters.

Coach Vojkan Bencic would have been far happier with his team’s showing in the second quarter as, incredibly, the Lakers limited the opposition to just four points in the entire ten-minute period. Fitzgerald and club captain Philip O’Connor, who started from the bench, impressed but it was San Francisco native Justin Tuason who really came to the fore as the half wore on.

The silky guard, who formerly lined out with Neptune in Cork, really caught the eye with a string of highlight plays that energised teammates and spectators alike.

He set up big man Lucey with a flashy behind-the-back pass to give the Lakers a 28-26 lead before knocking down a three off a Kapitanov assist. The Lions cut the deficit with a free throw but Tuason hit another field goal at the horn to make it 33-27 at the half.

It may have been a very low-scoring encounter but Tuason’s enthusiasm was contagious as the atmosphere began to slowly build in the sold-out arena.

Neither team flew out of the traps in the second half but again it was Tuason who provided the spark when he scored, forced a turnover and scored again to open up a commanding 11-point lead midway through the third.

The Lions fought back well, however, and despite big three-pointers from Kapitanov and O’Connor, the Lakers led by just five (52-47) at the end of the third.

It was 62-54 with six minutes to play and the home crowd smelled blood, but an unbelievable 11–point scoring burst from Lions guard Burnett turned the tie on its head.

The Lakers desperately needed a response and Tuason duly obliged, pulling up to hit a spectacular three in spite of the contact to make it a tie game. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete what would have been a remarkable four-point play.

The Lakers trailed by three with two minutes to go but lay-ups from Fitzgerald, Tuason and Lucey made it 71-68 with a minute on the clock. The visitors went to the line to hit two free shots with 43 seconds to go and the Lakers came forward in search of a potentially game-winning basket.

Just a few short seconds into the shot clock, the Lions failed to track O’Connor off a screen and when Kapitanov found him in the corner, the former Irish international made no mistake to drain the three and open up a four-point lead with just 35 to play.

The Lions scrambled to find an opening but tight Killarney defence kept them at bay. A kick ball meant the shot clock was reset to 14 but, with 15.7 seconds remaining on the game clock, all the Lakers had to do was not foul.

What happened next was hard to believe. Main man Burnett gathered the inbounds in the corner, turned, nailed the three… and was fouled. Luckily for Tuason, the alleged culprit, Burnett missed from the line. Kapitanov, one of the smallest players on the floor, gathered the rebound and was immediately fouled and with the Lions over the limit, the Bulgarian went to the line.

Kapitanov showed great composure to hit the clutch free throws and the Lakers were 76-73 up with 12 to go. Once again, all they had to do was not foul.

Astoundingly, Andrew Fitzgerald was called for a foul before the ball was even inbounded, resulting in two free throws and possession for the opposition. The Lions player certainly exaggerated the contact but nevertheless it seemed as though the Lakers were hell-bent on throwing this one away.

Both free-throws were made to make it a one-point game and all of a sudden the Lions had 11 seconds (and the ball) to get the winner. Burnett drove to the basket but Pádraig Lucey denied him at the rim with a huge block. The Dubliners secured the offensive rebound, missed the jump shot, corralled another board, and missed again from close range.

Somehow the Lakers held on for the victory. It was a thrilling start to life back in the big time but Coach Bencic and his players will be well aware that their game management will have to be infinitely better if they’re to prosper going forward.

Kapitanov, Tuason, O’Connor and Mark Greene all looked good in the back court and with star man Antuan Bootle, who was absent through injury, set to return and bolster the forward division, there’s definitely the makings of a good team there.

Supporters at The Auracle (see what I did there?) certainly got their money’s worth on Saturday night. Personally I can’t wait for the next home game.

Lakers top scorers: J Tuason (21), P Lucey (14) and A Fitzgerald (11).

Lions top scorers: Z Burnett (26), I Markiewicz (16) and H Natsiyanwa (10).

Upcoming fixtures:
September 23: LIT Celtics (away) at 6pm
September 30: BFG Neptune (home) at 7.30pm
 


 
Above: Justin Tuason, Scotts Lakers St Pauls, scores a basket over Michael Goj, Dublin Lions in the national league division one basketball clash in Killarney Sports Centre on Saturday night. Picture: Eamonn Keogh

 


 

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Get the gift of amazing skin this Christmas

By Jill O’Donoghue from Killarney Toning and Beauty Studio Treat your loved ones or yourself to a powerful professional skincare gift set. Rarely can you, or should you, get by with using one single skincare product. For a well-rounded skincare routine you have to at least use a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturiser and SPF. Whether […]

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By Jill O’Donoghue from Killarney Toning and Beauty Studio

Treat your loved ones or yourself to a powerful professional skincare gift set.

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Killorglin mother and son pen poetry book

By Michelle Crean What do roses, wrens, King Puck, fairies and Santa Claus have in common? Well, all now feature in a new children’s book co-written by a mother and son. The new illustrated poetry collection for children, ‘A Very Kerry Year’, by Killorglin mother and son, Jacinta and Conor Browne, has been published just […]

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By Michelle Crean

What do roses, wrens, King Puck, fairies and Santa Claus have in common? Well, all now feature in a new children’s book co-written by a mother and son.

The new illustrated poetry collection for children, ‘A Very Kerry Year’, by Killorglin mother and son, Jacinta and Conor Browne, has been published just in time for Christmas.

And all proceeds will be donated to Comfort for Chemo, an organisation whose mission it is to build and equip a chemotherapy unit for the people of Kerry.

The charity is close to the young author’s heart as Conor himself was undergoing cancer treatment while writing this book.

With original poetry by the mother and son, the book also has another separate family connection as the talented illustrators are local artists, father-daughter duo Con and Rochelle Lucey, with each page awash with colour and beautiful drawings.

“I know first-hand how important it is to have a comfortable environment while receiving chemotherapy,” Conor said.

‘A Very Kerry Year’ is currently available for €12 from The Crystal Cave and the Reeks District Tourist Office in Killorglin and will soon be available in many more outlets throughout the county.

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