At times the on the court product felt like a cure for insomnia but Emmet Ryan still found cause for joy as the MAAC-ASUN challenge in Dublin as the Stetson Hatters took on the Niagara Purple Eagles
It’s not the SSE Arena in Belfast and the more claustrophobic nature of the National Basketball Arena in Dublin stood out as Niagara and Stetson squared off in the last of the men’s games at the Dublin Basketball Challenge.
The actual basketball itself felt just as boxed in with little space for either side to find throughout the opening 8 minutes or so of action as the athletically impressive but creatively dulled sides, possibly still feeling the long journey they had made, seemed to just bosh in and out of each other in close but far from explosive action.
Out of the mandatory timeout at 8 minutes, there was some life on both sides. We got movement, we got vision, we had Jalen Blackmon scything through for the lay-up for Stetson, and Aaron Gray getting an actual open look for a three for Niagara.
The style clash of the college game vs pretty much every other form of the sport is still difficult to process. When you’re used to a 24 second clock and 4 quarters, the stop and start nature of a 30 second clock and a pair of halves makes for an adjustment in trying to truly read the tempo and flow of a game.
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Still, an alley-oop is the same in anyone’s language and there was a giddy smile on Touba Traore’s face as he realised he’d cut in blind to be in perfect position to slam one home. That was what the mostly young crowd in Dublin needed to get themselves fired up. With Marist’s band nobly playing on throughout to keep the fans entertained, this was becoming the showcase we’d all hoped for.
Stetson’s Aubin Gateretse and Stephan Swenson, both from Belgium, ensured there was some European flavour to the action but it was Blackmon who woke the crowd up with a buzzer beating deep three to give Stetson back the lead early in the second half.
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This could still have been better. The teams opting for simply individual games rather than giving it a tournament format was certainly a hindrance but the far greater impact was there being a full round of games in Ireland’s national leagues this weekend, effectively creating competition within the basketball community.
If the challenge or a tournament of its like is to return to these shores in a year, there’s a lot outside of the control of the organisers that could help. Greater support from the federation is the obvious one, using it as a way to promote the sport here with young people while leveraging the existing basketball community to do so.
Getting a name brand team would help but, in truth, that would require Belfast’s SSE Arena being in play due to its sheer size advantage and the issues with the economy and political factors in Northern Ireland make that unrealistic in the medium term.
Yet there was visible joy in the faces of the young people in the stands. Each team had visited a school during the week and many of those youngster had shown up to cheer on the Stetson and Niagara players in turn on this dreary November Saturday in Dublin. This is the long way back up, one Irish basketball is used to, as the highs of Belfast’s bumper crowds in a top tier arena can be reached again but getting there begins with putting smiles on faces in Dublin.
As for the rest of the actual hoops? It was quite evenly balanced. That tightness of the game meant that the relative lack of attacking flair felt less of an issue as the game entered its denouement. Neither side could ever create anything remotely approaching a comfortable lead at any stage. Niagara did just enough to earn the win and have a happy flight home.