A SENSATIONAL finish to a hard-hitting and gripping Super League clash at Ballincollig Community School saw Eoin Quigley score on the buzzer to deny the hosts.
Having led for the majority of the tie, Emporium fell four behind coming down the stretch, having lost their way in a stop-start third quarter marred by fouls and a staggering 31 free throws. Still, they gave themselves a chance when an and-one lay-up by Jose Jimenez trimmed the gap to a point with the clock running down.
Ballincollig fouled De'Ondre Jackson with seven seconds remaining to get possession back and he only managed to score one of his efforts from the line, 85-83. The Village now had an opportunity to at least tie it up.
American John Dawson then drove into the key and made a jump shot to level the game but was fouled in the process. With just two seconds on the clock it seemed like a make would win the game and he iced it, 86-85 with no time-out left for Tralee coach John Dowling to draw up a play.
The fans barely had an opportunity to process what happened when Tralee a quick quarter-back-style long inbounds pass just evaded Dawson's grasp and landed in the paws of Eoin Quigley. The Kerry native exploded towards the rim and finished as the clock expired.
Absolute joy for the visitors and dismay for Ciarán O'Sullivan's charges. The worst way to lose for Ballincollig.
Quigley was the hero but Warriors had fine performances from Jackson, the game's top scorer with 27, Daniel Jokubaitis, who shot 20, and especially Matija Jokic, who had 15 of his 19 in the second half, and viciously finished a couple of slam dunks. Tralee's defence improved considerably in the third quarter after trailing by 14 points coming up to half-time and when the game degenerated into a scrappy affair in the third quarter they converted 13 of their 17 free throws.
Adrian O'Sullivan was Emporium's most consistent player across the 40 minutes, 20 points with five three-pointers and a few big steals. Dylan Corkery had nine points and five steals, Pau Cami Galera chipped in with 10 and player-coach Ciarán O'Sullivan had eight. They needed a bit more on the scoresheet from Dawson (14) and Jimenez (14), even if their balance meant they'd five players in double figures.
For all the home side's disappointment, it was put into context by the dark shadow cast across this weekend's action after the death of Garreth Blount after his battle with cancer. The 22-year-old was a massively popular figure in Irish basketball from a family absolutely steeped in the game, including his brother Colm, a member of the Emporium squad.
Garreth was an underage star and President's Cup winner with Ballincollig and this game was held in his memory.
There's plenty of basketball left to play this season yet for Ballincollig and Tralee.
The National Cup is always box-office for basketball, the final showcased on TG4 with the semis and decider taking centre-stage every January. Maree were history-makers this month, securing a first National Cup not only for their club but Galway, bringing the silverware back to Connacht bringing a gap to Ballina's victory in 1996.
The buzz from that breakthrough could carry Charlie Conway's impressive charges to a double though Éanna, cup runners-up for the second time in three campaigns, have serious motivation to rebound in the league. The Dubliners beat holders Tralee, Neptune and Emporium away in a series of cup crackers only to fall short on the big day. Neptune and UCC Demons have both added highly-regarded Americans to their rosters to contend for the league.
Ballincollig are certainly in the mix but the path to the league title will be treacherous as they found out last season when edged out at home in the semis by Neptune, having only tasted defeat once in the regular season.
Adrian O'Sullivan 20, John Dawson 14, Jose Jimenez 14, Keelan Cairns 11, Pau Cami Galera 10, Dylan Corkery 9.
De'Ondre Jackson 27, Daniel Jokubaitis 20, Matija Jokic 19, Eoin Quigley 9.
Adrian O'Sullivan, Dylan Corkery, Andrew O'Connor, John Dawson, Sean O'Flynn, Pau Camí Galera, Ciaran O'Sullivan, Ronan O'Sullivan, Luke O’Sullivan, Padraig Lucey, Jamie Cotter, Jose Jimenez, Keelan Cairns.
Aivaras Uosis, Daire Kennelly, Jack Tobin, Zygimantas Kaletka, Fergal O'Sullivan, De'Ondre Jackson, Darragh O'Hanlon, Keelan Crowe, Daniel Jokubaitis, James Fernane, Steven Bowler, Eoin Quigley, Aaron Fleming, Matija Jokic, Padraig Flemming.
Ger Daly, James Dooley.