Pioneers fight hard down the stretch

GOING UP: Nick Marshall goes to the hoop during Round 3 of NBL1 South at Wulanda. Pictures: JAMES MURPHY

By Trevor Jackson

ANOTHER tight contest played out on Friday night for the Mount Gambier Pioneers men.

Round 3 of the NBL1 South competition saw the Pioneers host North West Tasmania at Wulanda and walk away with a hard-fought victory.

The Pioneers claimed a seven-point (91-84) win in the end, but with less than two minutes on the game clock, just two points separated the sides.

However, it was another case of catch-up basketball, with the Pioneers down by nine points at the first break, as the Thunder poured on the pressure.

With 30 seconds to play in the opening term the margin was 11 points, but a late two-point jump shot from Tom Daly closed that to nine.

The second term saw the Pioneers back on track to reverse that trend, claiming the quarter by 10 points to take a one-point advantage to the main break.

This time it was a tip-in from Akech Aliir with seven seconds on the clock which put the Pioneers up.

There was not much to separate the two sides in the third term, as the home side claimed the quarter by just two points to stretch the margin to three at the final break.

Aliir opened the final stanza with a crowd-pleasing dunk, before the Thunder responded with a pair of twos, followed by a three from Tre Armstrong to regain the lead.

Aliir hit back with a two, then Armstrong responded with a triple, before Austin Shelley drained a three to put the Pioneers one point up again.

The back-and-forth continued, with scores tied up at the four-minute mark.

A dunk to Nick Marshallo, followed by a three to Aliir opened the margin to five points and despite their best efforts, the Thunder could not respond in the final minute of play, as fouls began to be the order of play in a desperate bid to get stops.

The final 91-84 scoreline favoured the Pioneers in what was a big night at Wulanda, after the Pioneers women had made easy work of their clash with Launceston earlier.

Aliir was dominant around the hoop, with 30 points and seven rebounds, while Marshall contributed 21 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Christian Peevey finished with 12 points, Dylan Marshall with 11 and Shelley with 10, along with his six assists as well.

“It was a tough game,” coach Richard Hill said.

“They came in and played pretty well and we didn’t play our best.

“They got a lot more shots than us, but somehow we managed to offset that.

“I think we got off 53 shots to their 80.

“Giving up that many rebounds is not good for us, so we need to get better in that area, but it is good to win.”

Hill said the efficiency of his side at the offensive end of the floor made the difference, but another slow start forced the Pioneers to play catch-up.

“Our starts haven’t been good for us,” he said.

“I’m not sure why.

“We are coming out hard, but the guys are making a few errors.

“We were down a hole by nine or 10 points in the first quarter and we got back in front by the half.

Once back in front the Pioneers simply could not put the Thunder away.

“I think we got to a 10-point lead in the third and weren’t able to capitalise,” Hill said.

“We kept letting them get back into it.

“We kept getting out to a six or eight point, lead then letting them back in.

“When we got a gap were weren’t able to consolidate.

“It was a dog fight until the end.

“All credit to them too – they knocked down some shots and played pretty tough.”

Typical of the contest was Armstrong’s ability to find the three-point basket when his side needed it.

While Hill said Armstrong took a lot of shots, he managed to get those that mattered.

“He made a couple of threes to change the game dramatically,” he said.

“When we would get a bit of a lead, they would hit a couple of threes.

“He made some big shots down the stretch.”

For the Pioneers

Aliir once again stood tall.

Hill said he is pleased with Aliir’s improvement week in, week out.

“He has been good in all our games,” he said.

“He young and learning and getting better each time we step out.”

Likewise Hill said Shelley was certainly becoming an important part of the roster.

“He is tough and talented and his defence is outstanding,” he said.

“We got him in last year as a kid who was hardly playing at all.

“I saw something in him that I liked and he is getting better with every game, no doubt about that.”

The Pioneers face another tough test on Friday night at Wulanda, when they welcome the Keilor Thunder to town.