After blitzing through the competition in their opening three games of the Superleague season, Galway were brought down to earth with a 95-91 away defeat by UCC Demons on Sunday afternoon.
Last week, Tralee Warriors head coach John Dowling said Galway have the pieces to contend for this year’s championship.
Given their impressive early form, it’ll be a test of wills to see how they respond in the coming weeks after experiencing some adversity here.
Sloppy turnovers, missed open shots and multiple defensive breakdowns – particularly from three-point range – saw Maree quickly trail 18-7 as the home crowd roared the Demons on.
A rough first quarter for them was perhaps typified by a sequence starting with 50 seconds left.
Tala Fam Thiam hit one of his two free throws, before Eoin Rockall’s sloppy turnover was punished as leading scorer Jeremiah Moore scored in transition.
Then moments later, Rockall was called for a charging foul on Scott Hannigan as he advanced with possession up towards mid-court.
Moore recorded a point less (16) than Maree managed during that ten-minute quarter, draining a three as time expired to give them a 28-17 lead.
Yet the Mardyke Arena would soon be hushed into silence midway through the second quarter.
Galway galloped forward on a 18-9 run, powered by an aggressive and inspired Rodrigo Gomez display. The Spanish small forward recorded 18 points in the quarter, including four from the foul line, as Charlie Crowley’s men fought well to restore parity and were ahead at one stage.
Mvuezolo drilled three triples – half of Galway’s tally from deep – reinforcing their need for others to efficiently contribute besides the regular trio.
Thiam seemed determined to trade buckets with whoever would dare score for Maree: whether that be a jumper, a well-executed three, an and-one play or thunderous dunk.
He finished with 17 points but it felt like much more than that, on a day where Galway took too long constructing their attacks without reward and frequently played catch-up on the scoreboard.
Nonetheless, the game was still up for grabs at 78-70 with nine minutes left.
Mvuezolo hit a trio of difficult shots – all two-pointers – while the hosts fired back down the other end. Moore responded with a tough finish of his own, up-and-over through traffic to give them a five-point buffer, before the Londoner and Haines both hit clutch shots, cutting the lead to one.
During one particular play, Maree secured multiple offensive rebounds, had open looks and went scoreless, but you could still be forgiven for thinking their spirited comeback was complete.
Haines’ storming speed in transition saw him race away from the UCC players, earning another and-one play. Having hit the free throw, and watching his teammates force a turnover, it meant they were tied at 88-apiece as the pressure intensified. Nerves were beginning to jangle.
Then, Moore popped up with his second triple of the game, before they produced a big defensive stop and James Hannigan let fly from distance after a clever pass by their leading scorer.
94-88 with time running out, it was all a blur. Haines’ three-point attempt rattled in and out, before Cathal Finn made it a three-point game again with his second from deep.
However, Maree were fighting a losing battle as the Demons secured another defensive stop. Armed with multiple fouls to give, they wound down the clock to settle a sweet victory.
League leaders Neptune await Galway at home next Saturday, in a clash they’ll relish as their own unbeaten start to the campaign continued against Tralee Warriors earlier this weekend.
Scorers for University of Galway Maree: Jarett Haines 26, Rodrigo Gomez, Joe-Junior Mvuezolo 24, Cathal Finn 6, John Burke 4, Zvonimir Cutuk 4, Zach Light 3.
Scorers for UCC Blue Demons: Jeremiah Moore 31, Tala Fam Thiam 17, Kyle Hosford 16, James Hannigan 9, Carlton Cuff 8, Kingsley Nwagboso 7, VadYm Bykov 3, Stevan Manojlovic 2, Scott Hannigan 2.