UCD Marian opened their home campaign with a tight loss to Bord Gáis Neptune but grabbed an away win against Belfast Star, reports Ryan Mackenzie.
UCD Marian 75 – Bord Gais Neptune 85
Belfast Star 64 – UCD Marian 72
The Students entered their first home game of the new season on the back of a loss away to college rivals DCU, and no doubt wanted to get back on track with a win. Their opponents, a very good Bord Gáis Neptune side, had other ideas.
UCD started brightly with an impressive dunk off a rebound from their new American signing, Donnie Stith, to open the scoring. Stith is a twenty-six-year-old forward who played college basketball at Tulane University in New Orleans – an NCAA college. Since then he’s been somewhat of a journeyman; prior to joining UCD Marian over the summer, the 6”7 American played for clubs in Malaysia, Austria and at home in the US.
His skill and strength make him a force to be reckoned with under the boards and his wealth of experience brings some invaluable leadership to the side. He was brought in to replace fellow countryman, James Crowder, who recently left the club to play for Ovarense in Portugal. Crowder led the team in scoring last season and played a vital role in their successful national cup campaign – picking up the MVP award in the final. They’re big shoes to fill, but early signs indicate that Stith is capable of filling them.
Stith isn’t alone when it comes to talent on the UCD squad. Point-guard Conor Meany is arguably the team’s best player and the backbone of the side. Last season Meany led the team in assists and his on-court chemistry with Crowder was a major part of Marian’s success. He will need to develop a similar relationship with Stith if UCD are to achieve the offensive success they enjoyed last season.
Early signs indicate that Meany is set to have another good season. He combined with Stith in the opening quarter to help keep his side in the game, as Neptune asserted themselves on the game and bossed their way to a first quarter lead of 18-24.
Neptune led early and never really looked back. They were spearheaded by an American of their own – Ronald Thompson. Measuring 6”9, Thompson is a physical presence and UCD struggled to contain him. He controlled the boards well on offense and defense en-route to a game high of twenty points.
Despite trailing for the vast majority of the game, UCD matched their opponents in almost every area, defending well and moving the ball fluidly when in possession. They even contested the boards well. However the students shot poorly; numerous offensive opportunities were squandered by poor shooting and their opponents made them pay by clinically executing most chances that came their way.
In fact, Neptune’s offense appeared to be based entirely around shooting from outside. They successfully shot three-pointers while relying on Thompson to do the dirty work for them under the net and capture any shots that missed the mark. It was when this tactic began to fail that UCD clawed their way back into the game.
By the end of the third quarter the students were only a point behind and looked to have all the momentum. Neptune’s shooting faltered and Thompson was all they had in terms of an inside game. UCD began to frustrate the American, who became visibly aggravated as time went by. Luckily for the visitors, they regained their clinical shooting from the arch and looked to close out the game.
Their fans and their entertaining new mascot, who paraded the stands of the Sports Centre, lifted the home side as they mounted a comeback. It proved to be too little to late, as their opponents killed off the threat with their consistent shooting. The result ended in a ten point victory for Neptune at 75-85.
UCD then travelled to Belfast to take on Belfast Star. Off the back of two defeats, they needed a win to get their season on track and duly delivered.
Daniel James and Donnie Stith both finished the game with nineteen points. UCD bossed the opening exchanges, going into the half-time break five points up with the score at 34-39.
UCD never looked like taking their foot off the pedal and though Star controlled the game in patches, led by the impressive Scott Summersgill who also finished with nineteen points, they were no match for UCD, who won 64-72.