Neptune rise to Belfast Star challenge to offer a reminder of their Super League title credentials

Colin O'Reilly's side had too much firepower for the leading team in the Northern Conference, who they could meet again in the playoff quarter-finals
Neptune rise to Belfast Star challenge to offer a reminder of their Super League title credentials

Jordan Blount, Neptune, scores a dunk ahead of Conor Quinn, Belfast Star.  Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Energywise Ireland Neptune 72 Belfast Star 65 

ENERGYWISE Ireland Neptune kept their play-off hopes firmly on track when disposing of Belfast Star in the Men’s Super League at the Neptune Stadium on Saturday.

In a game that was in the melting pot up to the final quarter Neptune produced a late show before finally disposing of their Ulster rivals.

A crucial win for the Cork side as assistant coach Darren Geaney reflected on his team's battling display.

Geaney said: “It was a tough test for us and we certainly expected it as all teams are battling at this stage of the season and thankfully we came out on top.

“The lads are determined to make the playoffs and with two games of our campaign remaining it is certainly in our own hands.” 

The northerners' American Chrishon Briggs gave them the perfect start with a stunning three-pointer only for Jordan Blount to respond with a neat jumper. In fairness, Neptune were not fazed and when captain Roy Downey nailed a monstrous shot outside the paint in the third minute they surged into a five-point lead.

It was evident from the opening exchanges that Star were relying on Briggs to keep them in the game as they looked weak in the offence court outside of the American’s influence.

Cian Heaphy looked up for battle with consecutive three-pointers as Neptune looked to be taking control taking an 11-point lead with 2.35 remaining in the quarter with the Star coach Adrian Fulton forced to call a time-out.

In the closing minutes, Star put a press on Neptune that immediately got a response for coach Fulton with his team reducing the deficit to eight points with than a minute remaining.

Indeed Star had the final say of the opening period with a late Max Richardson basket ensuring they trailed 20-14 heading into the second quarter.

Jordan Blount got Neptune up and running with a fadeaway jumper and with Heaphy following with another the home side looked to be recovering their dominance.

The standard of shooting from both sides was x-rated for a two-minute period before Blount pulled up for a three as the home side commanded a 29-20 lead.

Neptune were still in command by eight points with two minutes left to the break but the standard of basketball from both sides wasn’t the prettiest witnessed at the famous Blackpool venue.

In the closing minute, Star levelled the game but a buzzer-beater from Tarkus Ferguson ensured Neptune went in at the break leading 35-33 in what was a very disappointing 20 minutes of basketball.

Star took the lead in the opening possession courtesy of a stunning Conor Quinn three-pointer as Neptune needed to get back to basics.

The sides were still level four minutes into the quarter but a three and basket from Ferguson had the home crowd in rapture.

There was little improvement in the standard of basketball with both teams still struggling on the scoring front and with two minutes remaining Neptune had a four-point lead.

Darragh Ferguson then came up with a stunning three but Neptune’s defence held firm to take a two-point lead, 53-51, into the final quarter.

Liam Pettigrew levelled proceedings on the restart but one sensational assist from Downey to Jordan Evans in the 33rd minute had the Neptune fans in rapture.

Ferguson followed up with a three-pointer and a similar basket from Xavier Arriaga saw Neptune surged into a nine-point lead with 4.43 remaining.

 Nil Sabata, Neptune, rises above Darragh Ferguson, Belfast Star. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Nil Sabata, Neptune, rises above Darragh Ferguson, Belfast Star. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Star did battle back to reduce it to six points but Neptune remained in control and with Nil Sabata showing two lovely touches the game looked in the bag when they increased their lead to 10 points with 2.39 remaining.

That’s as good as it got for Star as Neptune stayed in control and the relief around the venue was evident at the final buzzer as this was a true test of their character.

Top Scorers for Energywise Ireland Neptune: T Ferguson 19, J Blount 16, C Heaphy 10, N Sabata 9, X Arriaga 8.

Belfast Star: C Briggs 18, P Carter 14, C Quinn 9, M Richardson 9.

NEPTUNE: G Walsh, K O’Donoghue, R Downey, A Heaphy, J Evans, X Arriaga, N Sabata, J Blount, T Ferguson, K Garcia, C Heaphy, C Leahy, D O’Sullivan.

STAR: A Quinn, C Quinn, M Richardson, C Johnston, D Ferguson, P McGrahan, C Briggs, L Pettigrew, P Kerlin.

Referees: PJ Coughlan (Cork), M Malaysko (Dublin), G Daly (Cork).

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