Maree’s great start to the Men’s Basketball National League continued in Calasanctius Gym when the latest team to fall was the 2010 league and cup double winners St Mary’s Castleisland.
Unbeaten for 18 months, the closest St Mary’s had come to a loss was the one-point overtime defeat of Maree in last season’s equivalent league meeting. But on Saturday Maree turned the tables, recovering from a dismal start to stage another come-from-behind win. It is the now the third victory on the trot for the Galway outfit, which last week took the scalp of the 2009 champions Ballon.
In Maree’s first two MNL games, opponents Tolka Rovers and Ballon had played zone defence. St Mary’s, however, played a man-to-man defence and it took Maree some time to get to grips with it. The visitors raced onto a 9 - 0 lead before Maree got on the scoreboard with a Liam Conroy lay-up on a fast break. St Mary’s Declan Wall had hit a long three, and with the St Mary’s big men ruling the rebounds, Maree had scored only five points and were 9 – 5 behind.
Both teams upped their offence thereafter. Maree hit 18 points, starting with two from the line by Ken Hansberry, but St Mary’s hit 23. Sarunas Zvirblinskas, so pivotal in Maree’s first two wins in which he hit 31 points, found himself crowded out in offence, but Maree’s Linas Mitkus came into the game to immediate effect, hitting two free throws and a smooth three from the corner.
Maree’s offence continued to stutter despite some fast-break scores from Con Crowley, Colm O’Hagan and Danny Finn, and a three from Liam Conroy. Zvirblinskas hit five inside points and Dave Hansberry two, but a Maree rally, helped by athletic guards Con Crowley and Colm O’Hagan forcing turnovers, cut the lead to six. The Kerrymen steadied the ship in the last couple of minutes of the half, pushing the lead back out to nine ( 43-34 ).
Conroy, who finished with a team-high 12 points, got Maree off to the perfect start in the third quarter, while captain Darren Callanan was at the heart of everything good in the engine room of the defence. But although St Mary’s were restricted to just nine points in the period, they also held Maree to 11.
With St Mary’s ahead 41-34, and both teams watching the foul-count, Maree went into the last quarter with a young five - Callanan being the unlikely oldest at 21. Finn hit the first basket on his way to six final-quarter points, and successive threes from O’Hagan and Conroy reeled St Mary’s in. The champions responded twice, converting free throws through Wall and John Teahan, before Conroy and Finn responded. O’Hagan scored a free throw, while Callanan grabbed a huge offensive rebound and scored a powerful lay-up with the game on the line to take a three-point lead, and with just minutes left on the clock, it was the home side which added another three to win by 54 - 48.
On Saturday Maree begin the defence of their National Cup u-20 men’s title against Longford Falcons at 3pm in Calasanctius College Oranmore.
Maree: Con Crowley (4 ), Colm O’Hagan (6 ), Danny Finn (8 ), Darren Callanan (6 ), Niall Higgins, Liam Conroy (12 ), Ciaran Harte, Dave Hansberry (1 ), Brian Kelly, Sarunas Zvirblinskas (5 ), Ken Hansberry (5 ), Linas Mitkus (7 ).