Sunday evening saw UCD Marian complete one of the biggest upsets ever seen in Irish basketball by beating 11890 Killester in the National Cup final. Ryan Mackenzie reports
UCD MARIAN 60-57 11890 KILLESTER
UCD Marian entered the National Cup final as underdogs. In fact, their opponents, 11890 Killester, were hot favourites to ease to victory against a side that had exceeded all expectation in making it to the final. The North Dubliners completed a clean sweep of national titles last season and currently lead the North Conference comfortably with a game in hand and boast far greater experience of the big occasion (this being their fourth successive final) than the Students who were making their debut. Little was expected from UCD Marian, but a lot was delivered.
The game began brightly for the Students. A three-pointer from American import James Crowder gave his side a lead they maintained for the first quarter. The Students excelled on offence, while executed an affective zone defence, which kept Killester at bay.
Frustrated, the league champions and National Cup holders went into a full court press in an attempt to startle and smother their opponents. However, UCD held on for a two-point lead at the break as the scoreline stood at 17-15.
The second quarter was not as positive from UCD. Their lead of two fell to a deficit of seven points as Killester hit their stride. Indeed, the favorites began to demonstrate why they were so heavily preferred before the game. They upped the tempo on offence as the Students struggled to keep up with their opponent’s pace.
The ball was swung around the arch with ease, while clever and incisive passes carved through Marian’s once solid zone defence. On the other side of the ball Killester battened down the hatches and gave the Students very little to work with on offence – which was evident in Crowder’s modest six-point tally at the break. A late surge by UCD left the half-time score at 28-35.
The second half began with much of the same from both sides. Killester continued to dominate the UCD defence and the Students struggled on offence. In fact, aside from two back-to-back three-pointers from Crowder late in the third quarter, the Students produced very little in the way of points.
Marian appeared stagnated by the impressive prowess of the Killester attack and were often met by random bouts of full-court press from the holders. Killester looked intent on killing off the UCD threat and effectively winning the game in the third quarter. They entered the final period of the game leading by ten points at 42-52, but the Students were buoyed by their success in the closing minutes of the quarter.
The fourth quarter was something special to behold from the Students. UCD, encouraged by the words of their coach Fran Ryan, shut out the champions and chipped away at their lead. It took Killester six-and-a-half minutes to get on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, by which time the Students had miraculously pulled level. The champions were nervous and mistakes began to creep into their game.
Crowder combined with Conor Meany and Daniel James to lead the team through a period of intense pressure and unbearable tension. Killester, now two points adrift were handed possession with 32 seconds remaining. However, despite a timeout filled with inspiring words and tactical guidance from their coach, the defending champions were unable to score.
The game finished rather fittingly with Conor Meany, the teams ever-present point guard and leader this season, slotting away a free throw and ushering in the club’s first-ever National Cup, making UCD Marian the eleventh club to win the competition. The final score was 60-57 and arguably marks the greatest upset the cup’s history.
With this victory, UCD Marian became the unlikeliest of champions. The game was meant to be a procession of Killester dominance, as the Students themselves claimed to be content pre-game with merely keeping the scores close.
It must also be understood that UCD were not lucky to beat Killester, nor were the elite club in Irish basketball caught on an uncharacteristic off day, the Students were just meticulous in their execution of Fran Ryan’s game plan and brave enough to outplay a supposedly superior side. They brought the champions to their knees and laid claim to not only silverware, but also the respect of the rest of the league. Next stop is the league title and who would bet against them now?