Agonising Varsity defeat for UoN Men’s Basketball

UoN Men’s Basketball’s great 2017/18 campaign ended on a disappointing note on Friday night as they fell just short in their Varsity contest with Nottingham Trent. The side went down 64-58 at Motorpoint Arena, although they showed great fight in a closely fought contest in front of a lively crowd from both UoN and NTU. The Green and Gold had trailed by double digits for long periods of the first half, but rallied to take the lead briefly in the fourth quarter before losing out to their cross-city rivals in the closing moments.

This fixture was always going to be a compelling watch, with the Green and Gold coming in on the back of promotion to the top tier of BUCS Basketball and Trent having won the BUCS Trophy, and so it proved. After the tip-off it was Nottingham Trent who made the bright start. They nailed the first shot of the game before a succession of turnovers from UoN gave them easy scores in transition, including a couple of slam-dunks that left the Green and Gold trailing by ten. That saw head coach Mindaugas Janiska call his first timeout of the game, and the moments that followed saw some improvement from his side, with Josh Smith hitting a three-pointer to get them on the board. The rest of the opening quarter saw UoN do well to draw fouls from their opponents and get chances to cut the deficit at the free-throw line, but four misses on eight attempts and continued good shooting from NTU meant the BUCS Trophy winners led 18-11 after ten minutes.

The second quarter saw both teams make slow starts, with UoN and NTU only making one basket apiece in the first few minutes, which saw Trent call their first timeout of the contest. Following that, it was Trent’s turn to take trips to the free-throw line, making six of their eight attempts to extend the advantage to twelve on the back of a struggling Green and Gold offence. Janiska then called his second timeout, which proved to be the spark for his team to play the high-quality basketball that took them to promotion. Two three pointers amongst an eight point scoring run got UoN to within striking distance of their opponents for the first time, getting the Green and Gold contingent in the crowd to their feet and causing Trent’s latest timeout to be signalled. The momentum of UoN carried over into the final few minutes, reducing the lead to just one in the closing stages after a third three-pointer of the quarter, but a late tip-in by NTU meant they had to be content with trailing 34-31 at the break.

UoN struggled to bring the energy of that conclusion to the first half into the second though. Trent’s layup in the opening moments of the quarter set the tone for much of the quarter, with the side in pink playing the more effective basketball whilst the Green and Gold struggled to prevent the turnovers that cost them chances to take the fight to their cross-city rivals. Those difficulties saw them trail by nine at one stage, but they were able to produce another strong finish to a quarter. After quickly cutting the gap to five, they missed two free throws but some quick thinking on the rebound meant UoN were just two behind before a steal on the next play set up an easy score that levelled the scores and sent the crowd into delirium.

In contrast to the poor start of the third, the Green and Gold were this time able to bring that positive energy into the fourth. A well-designed move with the first play of the quarter gave UoN the lead for the first time, and when that advantage grew to three, NTU called a timeout. That proved to be a decisive turning point in the game, with a three-pointer levelling the scores again before the problems that had held back UoN crept back into their game, in particular turnovers and missed shots, leaving the Green and Gold trailing by six with five minutes remaining.

The lead was cut to as little as two in the remaining minutes, but the side was never able to build another sustained run to see them past Trent, and when NTU sank two three throws with a few seconds left on the clock, the bragging rights belonged to them for another year.  The defeat makes it a third consecutive loss in the Men’s Basketball and will be disappointing considering the impressive season the team has enjoyed. But the side can be proud of that great season and the heart they showed to get back into the game on Friday, whilst UoN still hold a 10-7 advantage in the Varsity series.

Alex Riggs

Images courtesy of Impact Sport

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