Sweet revenge helps keep Neptune at front of pack
NEPTUNE'S revenge over Delta on Saturday night in Cork helped to erase the painful memory of their cup semi final capitulation a week earlier and, more importantly, kept them in a share of the lead in the Budweiser Superleague.
Neptune's home court success by a convincing 90-81 scoreline was also a vital boost for the Corkmen ahead of next weekend's possible league decider against fellow leaders Star of the Sea, who only scraped by the bottom club, Queen's, by a mere three points on Saturday.
Neptune and Delta went in tied at 41 at the break, and there was just a single score between the sides as Neptune led 63-61 entering the final quarter. However, instead of losing their grip on the lead as they had done in the cup semi final, Neptune edged further ahead and led by six points with five minutes to go.
Helped by a strong performance by rookie American Mario Mullen (31 points), and strong backcourt work by Gordon Fitzgerald and Ger Heaphy, Neptune had a comfortable enough cushion in the closing stages.
The game marked a return to form for Fitzgerald who scored 20 points. However, his season could be over as he is due to have a hernia operation on Wednesday before he travels for a six month tour of Army duty in the Lebanon next April. Neptune may yet seek a deferment of the operation until after next Sunday's crucial game.
Ahead of that near cup final like occasion, Star of the Sea suffered a remarkable dose of jitters against their arch Belfast rivals Queen's before prevailing 108-105.
Queen's went into the game having suffered 12 straight league defeats from the start of the season, but they raised their performance for the derby clash and were just 48-52 behind at halftime. The second half progressed with little between the teams and only a late three pointer from Adrian Fulton pushed Star into a seven point lead with three minutes remaining. Although they never lost the advantage, they only just held out to win by a single score.
John Leahy was Star's top scorer in the game on 30 points, while big Bo Lintz scored 35 for Queen's.
Third placed St Vincent's remained on course for a top four place and kept their very tenuous hopes of challenging for the title intact with an 89-78 win over St Paul's Killarney after overtime in Kerry on Saturday. It was 79 all at the end of normal time.
Struggling Sligo pulled off a surprise 99-81 win over the reigning champions Tralee, helped by 27 points from their Irish player John Quigley, while Killester improved their top four hopes with an 83-81 win over Marian in a Dublin derby at Ailesbury Road yesterday.
In Division One, Ballina gained impressive revenge over Castleisland after losing to the same opposition in Kerry before Christmas. Ballina's 122-99 success featured a game high of 37 points for American guard Shannon Sweeney, while Liam McHale, less than 24 hours ahead of turning out for Mayo against Clare in the National Football League, scored 31.
Ballina stay joint leaders in the table along with Dungannon who defeated Marathon Limerick 92-85. Third placed MSB only Just got the better of joint bottom club Tridents 80-78, while the other team sharing last place, St Gall's, surprised mid table Tolka Rovers 98-85, helped by 33 points from Adam Stockwell.
In women's division one, 27 points from Jillian Hayes propelled Wildcats into an outright lead in the table following an easy 93-61 win over Tolka Rovers. The game between Meteors and Naomh Mhuire has been deferred until next Friday when it will be part of the televised double bill at the National Basketball Arena.