Fast-finishing Thunder join Star at summit
GRIFFITH College Swords Thunder produced a typically late surge to overcome league leaders Belfast Star, a result which sees them move up to joint top of the Super League table.
Coach Dave Baker had asked for a big performance from his charges following their heartbreaking last-gasp loss to UCC Demons, and although not at their very best they showed all their fighting qualities to overcome a third-quarter deficit and ultimately enjoy a relatively comfortable seven-point victory.
Swords Thunder have one of the deepest squads in the Super League and that enabled Baker to rest point guard Isaac Westbrooks, with recent signing Travis Black coming in to replace him. Kevin Lacey also dropped to the bench, with the always reliable Alex Dolenko coming in for him against the league leaders.
The first half was a tight affair, with Belfast Star bringing a lot of physicality to the game in an attempt to ruffle Thunder’s feathers.
Justin Goldsborough and Travis Black began to find their range late in the half to help their side go in level at 22-22 after the first quarter.
Belfast Star began to get the upper hand in the second as a wasteful Swords missed quite a few openings. Indeed, Thunder would only score 12 points in what was a very poor quarter for the hosts.
Belfast Star went in at the halftime break four points clear, with the scoreboard reading 38-34 in their favour.
Thunder began to increase the pace in the third quarter as Isaac Westbrooks was introduced to the fold. To Belfast Star’s credit they matched Swords basket for basket throughout a competitive third quarter, although Westbrooks late basket reduced the deficit to just two points (49-51).
That third quarter seemed to take a lot out of Star as Thunder began the final quarter in dominant fashion, scoring three unanswered baskets to take the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.
Goldsborough took his personal tally to 20 points with a fine three-pointer as Swords finally took control against the league leaders.
Once Baker’s men took the lead they never looked back and in the end recorded a relatively comfortable seven-point victory to join Star at the top of the Super League.
Afterwards, coach Baker praised his players for bouncing back well after the previous week’s defeat.
‘Yeah, we had a tough loss last week, but we regrouped and I thought I would light a bit of a fire under the squad by bringing in Travis and Alex for Isaac and Kevin.
‘We have a deep squad and I think we showed that out there today. They are a well-drilled physical side, but I thought our intensity late on was too much for them and once we took the lead I was confident we would finish the job.
‘We were a bit stagnant in that second quarter and a return of just 12 points was not great, but we’re a very fit team and I knew we’d be coming on strong down the stretch.
‘I think you will see us improving from this point on. The season started early this year and usually we’d only be getting started around now, so I think we will be getting back to our best sooner rather than later.’
Travis Black makes a dashing run for Swords Thunder.
Swords Thunder’s Alex Dolenko weighs up his options during Saturday’s clash. Pics: Fintan Clarke