Rodrigo Gomez led the game with a 24-point display – including five threes – as University of Galway Maree built upon an impressive second quarter display to stifle Super League playoff hopefuls Neptune with a 92-69 away victory on Friday evening.
It ensured the Westerners ended 2022 on a winning note, and remain top of the Superleague, as attentions now turn to a Pat Duffy National Cup semi-final against Dublin side Bright St. Vincent’s, also at Neptune Stadium this coming Saturday (January 7th – 5.30pm).
Neptune were without leading scorer Jordan Blount, who had 29 in the previous meeting, but it’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old forward carrying his teammates with much success here.
Barcelona-born power forward Nil Sabata posted 11 points in the first period, as Neptune commentators waxed lyrical about the team’s sharp ball movement and their ability to create open looks for one another.
He only added two more across the three subsequent quarters. That’s because almost as if they heard that praise, Maree cranked up the defensive intensity before half-time.
Haines had 19 and enjoyed a deadly 13-point second quarter, as the visitors absorbed their hosts’ energetic start before responding with staunch defence themselves.
Forcing turnovers and making it harder to circulate possession with any purpose, Charlie Crowley’s side showed active hands and regularly scored down the other end.
Besides Haines’ inspired efforts, there was dependable ball-handling by Eoin Rockall and Stephen Commins an ever-present threat from distance – finishing with 15 points and four triples.
Neptune, who appeared content to trade baskets during this sequence, had multiple three-point attempts with mixed results before half-time.
28-year-old guard Roy Downey scored two on consecutive possessions to get the crowd excited, but that was an exception to the rule as relying on long-distance shooting is dangerous at the best of times.
So it proved here. All of Haines’ points came from mid-range: floaters, step-back jumpshots, floaters and an and-one play too – all difficult but importantly in the flow of Galway’s attack, well-executed moves.
Rockall and Zach Light’s off-ball defence in particular proved problematic for the hosts, who headed into the break with a four-point deficit. It would soon balloon into double-digits afterwards.
Centre Zvonimir Cutuk had his most productive outing since mid-November in the scoring department, posting 18 points in 30 minutes – spreading those contributions across an evening where Neptune couldn’t contend against multiple attacking options.
After being a little unfortunate to foul Sabata in the act of shooting as he contested a layup, Nil missed what would’ve been a three-point play.
Gomez and Cian Heaphy traded corner threes, before Cutuk showed timely anticipation to box out and rebound Gomez’s missed layup, converting second chance points of his own.
All of the Croatian’s six third-quarter points were in the paint, as Neptune lamented their inability to match Maree with length and defensive intensity inside the key without fouling.
By this stage, they were down 11 and scoring became increasingly infrequent from their perspective. Light made a big block at one end, before Rockall charged into the paint before deftly assisting Commins in space at the other.
The week before Christmas, Galway made Flexachem KCYMS record a lowly 13-point quarter en route to a landslide victory.
In their final appearance of the year, Maree forced Neptune into two quarters where they only managed 25 points combined.
With the result beyond doubt and the lead as high as 26, there were fourth-quarter minutes afforded to Malik Thiam and John Burke among others.