Fruitful road trip

FORM: Austin Shelley showed good form in the Pioneers win over Keilor on Friday night. Pictures: FILE

By Trevor Jackson


THE Mount Gambier Pioneers men returned to the NBL1 South winner’s list on Friday night with a strong 16-point win over the Keilor Thunder.

A strong start and four quarters spent in front of the home side saw the Pioneers in control, which began with a 27-18 opening term to set the scene.

The quarter went basket-for-basket until mid-way through the term when Nick Marshall drained a three-point bomb.

Akech Aliir followed up with a regulation layup to go six points clear.

Kyle Zunic responded for the Thunder, but Titus Robinson had his measure and dropped another two.

Zunic again responded, before the Pioneers went on a 6-0 run to open the margin slightly.

Keilor had the answer through Daniel Poelsma for another two points, but Marshall finished the quarter with a dunk to take a nine-point advantage to the first break.

The second term began in a flurry until Nick and Dylan Marshall dropped a triple each and the margin was out to 14 points.

The two sides swapped baskets and youngster Jack Haggett was injected into the game with a bit over three minutes on the clock.

He soon made his presence felt and rounded out the term with a two-point layup which gave the Pioneers a 12-point lead at the main break.

The third term saw the tightest of the four, which saw the Thunder stage a strong effort to challenge the Pioneers.

However, the Pioneers maintained a healthy margin to ensure they went to the final stanza with a handy 13-point advantage.

Robinson hit the first basket of the final quarter, while Austin Shelley followed with a pair of twos.

Overall the scoring from both sides dried up, as the intensity of defence lifted.

By the end of the term the Pioneers had added only an extra 13 points, but they still outscored the Thunder by three to claim a comfortable victory.

Five Pioneers hit double figures, something they have struggled with this season.

Nick Marshall topped the list with 18 points and 13 rebounds, plus four assists and two steals.

Robinson dropped 16 points and Aliir 13, with Shelley and Christian Peevy contributing 11 points each.

Coach Richard Hill was impressed with the way his players went about their jobs against a tough opponent that averages well above the 64 points on the night.

“We played well,” he said.

“They are the highest scoring team in the comp – they average 96 points a game and we kept them to 64, which is pretty good.”

The result came despite less-than desirable shooting from the Pioneers, with their defence the difference in the end.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, but our defence, attention to detail and toughness was probably our best for the year,” Hill said.

“That was a fantastic effort from the boys … I love what they did Friday night.

“You could just feel the boys were engaged and up for the game and were aggressive at both ends of the floor.”

One obstacle the Pioneers had to overcome was the huge presence of Deng Acouth around the hoop.

While Acouth pulled down 13 rebounds, the Pioneers limited his offence to just four points.

“We got a lot of points in the paint from toughness and ability to finish,” Hill said.

“They had a seven-foot-one guy protecting the paint, so it was a pretty good effort.

“Acouth has been averaging around 17 and will be at the Olympics with South Sudan, so he is a pretty decent player.

“You have to tip your hat to Akech who did a good job on him, but it was a team thing.

“He is that big you won’t stop him on your own.

“To keep him to four was good … you would expect him to get 10 or 12.”

At the end of the day Hill was impressed with the performance of his side against a tough opponent.

“We were tough against a really good team,” he said.

“The boys were just into it and we haven’t seen that at home, that finite sharpness and aggression I have seen on the road a few times.

“They had three guys who are going to the Olympics, plus two imports and some good Aussie guys.

“But it doesn’t actually matter that much if you are up for it.

“Our guys are all good players and they were up for the challenge.”