Neptune 96 (49)
Maigh Cuilinn 80 (43)
An improved Maigh Cuilinn performance fell away late in Cork as Neptune ran out comfortable winners in the end 96 to 80 in the Basketball Ireland Men’s Superleague.
The men from Conemara appear to have recently turned a corner somewhat after their first win against UCC Demons in their last home game which was followed up by a very respectable showing in Dublin against high flying DBS Eanna, a match that came down to the final minutes.
While still crippled by injuries to key players, Maigh Cuilnn have found new rotations and are adjusting to life without the services of James Loughnane, James Connaire and James Lyons for now.
The confidence this has given them was evident on Saturday in a superb first half display that had the hosts from Cork very much aware they were in a battle.
When the sides met previously in the season (an early October meeting in Galway) the game was over as a contest at the half, Neptune leading by in excess of 20 points.
That was certainly not the case on Saturday however and but for a woeful return from the free throw line, Maigh Cuilinn would have been taking a healthy lead into the halftime break after a really solid opening two quarters where they attacked with variety and decisiveness.
As it happened, they did struggle mightily from the free throw line, missing a dozen free throw shots in the first half. Their good play had still put them right in the contest and a three point shot from Kevin Nugent that would have leveled proceedings entering the break fell just wide. From the ensuing rebound, Neptune quickly counterattacked and converted a three pointer of their own on the buzzer to put the home side up by 6.
The small sequence of play was perhaps emblematic of the game overall as good Maigh Cuilinn offence was simply bettered by a superior Neptune attack which, when in full flow, is probably the best in the country.
Led by dynamic American Jordan Evans and deft inside playmaker Nil Sabata, Neptune are blessed with Irish internationals Jordan Blount and Roy Downey as third and fourth options when on most any team they would be the main focus of an offence,
While Maigh Cuilnn continued to score well on the offensive end, pouring in 80 points (a season high), they were unable to contain a Neptune offence that really found its feet in the third quarter.
Blount proved a handful inside and it was a constant dilemma for coach John Cunningham whether to send a double team or not. In transition Jordan Evan was masterful in sneaking free and finding open three pointers while Neptune’s Xabier Arriaga enjoyed one of his best games of the season against the usually stingy Maigh Cuilinn defence, netting 13 points.
For Maigh Cuilnn, good performances from Grant Olsson, who continued his recent scoring outburst by contributing 31 points, and from Mateo Libertaore and Dylan Cunningham (14 and 11 points respectively) along with the sharp shooting of Joe Tummon (two three pointers) made for some welcome consolation.
Maigh Cuilinn now head into the Christmas break after what has been a difficult opening half of the season that has seen them pick up only one win. However, there can be no denying their improved performances in recent outings and although they have had disappointing news on the injury front with no players expected back soon, they have found a new rhythm without these and are finally adjusting.
Their next game is potentially the most important of the season when on 30 December at 7pm, they play relegation rivals UCD Marian who sit just one win ahead of them at the foot of the table.
That game, a rare Friday night occasion, is in the University of Galway Sports Arena and will be the only time this season the two teams who look most likely to be fighting the relegation battle will meet.
Maigh Cuilinn Scorers: Grant Olsson (31), Mateo Liberatore (14), Dylan Cunningham (11), Joseph Tummon (9), Ayberk Taylan (7), Dara Kenna (3), Brian Gaffney (3), Kevin Nugent (2), Rory O’Sullivan, Kyle Cunningham, Donagh McDonagh