Maree top Tolka in overtime thriller

Maree have advanced to the semi-finals in what is becoming a remarkable first season in the men’s basketball National League.

After wrapping up regular season play with three away wins in Waterford, Dublin and then Tralee, Maree returned home to Calasanactius gym to host Tolka Rovers in a quarter-final tie.

In a game of twists, turns and high drama, Maree pulled away in overtime to win 99-86 to send them into a semi-final joust with cup champions St Mary’s onMarch 20.

Maree’s Danny Finn, who has been commuting weekly from his studies in Edinburgh, was the game’s high scorer with 26. Teammate Liam Conroy was good for 24, while Maree big man Linas Mitkus, back after illness, hit 10 points in his first game in four months.

Although five Maree players scored in the first quarter, bookended by baskets from captain Darren Callanan, Tolka looked the quicker and stronger, while their guards damaged Maree’s prospects, taking the first quarter 20-12. However Maree produced a massive response as they more than trebled their first-quarter tally with 37 points in the second, turning an eight-point deficit into a 49- 31 lead. It stemmed from defensive pressure and lightning transition to attack. Con Crowley and Colm O’Hagan were relentless in defence, while Conroy hit 15 and Finn 10. With a couple of minutes to the half, Mitkus entered the game, hitting two unstoppable baskets and ripping three rebounds.

Tolka, however, refused to buckle and slowly reeled in their Galway hosts.Maree’s offensive rhythm was disrupted, and despite seven from Finn and two inside baskets from David Hansberry, Maree were held to 19 points while the Dubliners racked up 32, reducing the deficit to six.

With fouls mounting for both sides, Maree lost three players - Callanan, David Hansberry and Crowley - before the tie was over. The momentum swung Tolka’s way, and as the clock ticked down, they equalised and took the lead with a little over a minute to go. However when their captain Ciaran Walsh missed two that would have sealed the deal, Mitkus took successive massive defensive rebounds and fired court-length outlets to Finn, who scored with lay-ups, the second with just 16 seconds to go, sending the game into overtime.

Maree remained composed. Mitkus and Zvirblinskas shared 11 points, and at the other end, Tolka ran out of gas against a Maree defence that had renewed its efforts. Although the Dubliners hit a respectable six points, Maree hit a remarkable 19, the last basket going to 17-years-old Colm O’Hagan.

Maree: Con Crowley (4 ), Colm O’Hagan (6 ), Danny Finn (26 ), Eddie Forde, Darren Callanan (7 ), George Rahmani (inj ), Liam Conroy (24 ), Conor Graham (inj ), David Hansberry (4 ), Sarunas Zvirblinskas (16 ), Kenneth Hansberry (2 ), Linas Mitkus (10 ).

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