Belfast Star 74
NEPTUNE, inspired by captain-fantastic Eli Lenihan, Sean McCarthy, Eoghan Sheehan and David Varma were crowned U18 national cup champions on Saturday thanks to a superb second-half performance.
Trailing by 11 at the break Neptune found their true form in the second half of this final and once their big star players found their way, composure and confidence, the Cork side were the better team and deserving winners with Lenihan just edging Star’s CJ Fulton for the MVP award.
Belfast Star started the game the better. They lead 10-4 after three minutes forcing Neptune coach Keith Daly to call a time-out to sort out their sloppy start that also lacked intensity.
Neptune’s shot selection on offence was also a problem in this quarter. They only shot 32%, hitting eight from 25 attempts and continued to look very nervous on both sides of the floor, while Star ran their plays to perfection, finding the open man all the time to score some very easy baskets.
They led by seven at the end of the first, 16-23 with Rocks and Fulton hitting seven points each, while Eli Lenihan and David Varma led the way for Neptune with six each.
That lead was up to 14 three minutes into the second, 16-30 as Fulton and Star continued to outsmart and out rebound Neptune on both ends of the floor.
A scoring burst from Sean McCarthy saw the deficit reduce to eight, 27-35, but Star never panicked.
They continued to play the game at their own slow pace and run the clock down on every offence and that caused huge problems for Neptune who like to play the game at a very fast pace.
Struggling to find any sort of form a clearly out of sorts Neptune trailed at the half by 11, 34-45.
Neptune, no doubt inspired by a tongue-lashing from their coach at the half started the third in style, and at pace hitting early baskets to cut the Star lead to three, 42-45 with Sean McCarthy hitting six quick points in the opening three minutes.
But with Fulton controlling the tempo for Star their lead was soon back to seven, 48-55 with five to play in the third.
A big three from Star’s Conal McGirr saw Neptune fall 11 behind and force Daly into another time out as the final started to slip away from their grasp.
But Neptune, inspired by Lenihan and McCarthy finished the quarter in style to trail by two, 59-61 with the final quarter to come.
Neptune with McCarthy and O’Donoghue finally finding his form were ahead 65-61 with over seven minutes to play forcing Star to call a time.
Neptune’s defence was super at the start of the fourth and by the time Star registered their first basket of the quarter, a three by Ferguson, with over four minutes played, Neptune were ahead 68-64 and starting to believe they could win this final.
But Fulton and Star refused to go away and with just over three to play Neptune led 72-69 with Lenihan hitting four vital points to keep his side in front and they remained that way until the end to win by six 80-74.
Neptune: P Cullinane, S McCarthy, D Varma, J Field, E Lenihan, C Finnegan, K O’Donoghue, J Kelly, E Sheehan, C Leahy, D O’Sullivan, C Duggan, A Kremenscus, J Ensko, L Bonosis.
Belfast Star: C Rocks, C Fulton, I Alvarado, N Morgan, E Hackett, C McGirr, V Enginlo, D Ferguson, N Quinn, C McDonnell, R Kingi, J Rutowski, D Price.
Referees: M Landos, J Malysko, M Thornhill.