Neptune got the job done in front of their own fans as they cruised past a brave NUIG Maree side that simply lacked the firepower to compete in the end. Emmet Ryan reports from Neptune Stadium
There was plenty of space for both sides to operate early in this one as Cian Heaphy set the tone for Neptune while De’Ondre Jackson responded in kind for NUIG Maree. It was a clash of isos, from Maree, and ball movement from Neptune with both sides finding ample success early and often in a game that lacked the pace of its predecessor (few could) but still gave those watching plenty to chew on in the first 10 minutes. The hosts had the edge at the end of the frame, 24-20.
Neptune looked like they were going to break this one open early in the second but Maree reeled them in comfortably through Jeryn Lucas, who was splitting minutes with Jackson. A Heaphy rim rocker brought some life back to proceedings after matters seemed to have settled a little too much. The Neptune star punished Oriol Franch who got too cheeky with a behind the back pass that went right to the Corkman. Still, there was little between the sides as the first half reached its denouement. Heaphy went Super Saiyan to slam home again as Neptune looked like they could create some breathing room at the break. Through a couple of errors from Maree down they got it, with Colin O’Reilly and Nils Sabata pushing out the lead from the line to 53-43 at the break.
A pair of Roy Downey threes took the wind out of Maree nearing the midpoint of the third as the favourites started to taste fresh air. Maree, game as a they were, looked a player or two away from being able to stay competitive in this for the full 40 and the greater depth of the home side was proving telling. Jackson, to his credit, rallied to cut the deficit back to single digits. There just wasn’t enough around him to maintain any kind of run without Neptune coming back and piling on the pressure. Neptune just piled it on through the final minutes of the quarter to move into a commanding 81-64 lead.
Save for a third Heaphy dunk, the fourth felt a lot like playing out the string until the final few minutes. It felt like the only debate left was whether Neptune would surpass the century mark. Once more Jackson sparked a run and Maree almost got it back to within single digits inside the final two minutes. Richaud Gittins brought the ton up for Neptune from the line with 1.29 to play as the Cork club secured a long awaited return to the biggest date on the Irish basketball calendar, on a final score of 103-92.