Maree are one win away from winning their first National League basketball title.
In a top-of-the-table thriller against fellow title hopefuls Swords Thunder on Saturday, Maree prevailed by 80-67 to stay in pole position.
As expected Calasanctius Gym in Oranmore was packed to the rafters for this eagerly-awaited first division encounter and the fans were not disappointed. Maree, with the best defensive record in the league, faced Thunder with the best offensive tally, but the hosts, with Cathal Finn and Ken Hansberry scoring 22 points each for Maree, were not to be beaten. Now Maree can claim the title if they win one of two remaining fixtures - albeit tricky away fixtures against Fr Mathews in Cork and Tolka Rovers in Dublin.
Thunder, with a 3-2 zone defence, scored the first basket through Keith Anderson, but Maree responded with three successive three-pointers from Cathal Finn, Liam Conroy and Ken Hansberry. Thunder were never to lead again, although they tied it at 15-15 in the first period and rallied twice after that to come within two points.
Finn and Conroy hit seven each in the first quarter to help Maree to a 25-18 lead which they stretched to 36-18 midway through the second quarter. However the visitors dug deep to stay in the game, and they cut the deficit to nine by half time and then to just two in the third before Maree rallied. With Pádraig Burke particularly impressive in defence and Darren Callanan pulling them ahead again, Maree’s re-established a nine-point advantage before the final period.
Thunder rallied once again, hitting the first seven points to reel in the Maree lead to two, but Conroy responded with successive drives and Enda Walsh chipped in with a basket. Although Kurn was on fire for Swords and narrowed the margin again to 60-57 with a three-pointer, Hornbuckle answered with one of his own, after which the home lead never dipped below six. Five from Finn, who finished with five steals, put the issue beyond doubt and Maree closed the game out with nine free throws.
Maree: Charlie Crowley, Colm O’Hagan (2 ), Jasiek Stec, Liam Conroy (16 ), Dave Hansberry, Enda Walsh (2 ), Ken Hansberry (22 ), Cathal Finn (22 ), Darren Callanan (5 ), Matt Hornbuckle (5 ), James Brophy (2 ), Pádraig Burke (4 ), Donie Greene.