BASKETBALL: University of Galway Maree advance to National Cup Semi-Finals

University of Galway Maree's Joe Junior Mvuezolo gets in for a basket, during Saturday's National Cup quarter-final against Belfast Star at Calasanctius College, Oranmore. Photo by Michael Gough

University of Galway Maree through to National Cup Semi-FinalsUniversity of Galway Maree 92 Belfast Star 77

by Cóilín Duffy

Joe-Junior Mvuezolo scored a season-high 33 points, as University of Galway Maree progressed to the Pat Duffy National Cup semi-finals with a 92-77 win over Belfast Star on Saturday evening at Calasanctius College.Maree executed better in clutch moments down the stretch, evidenced by a 17-2 run to end this contest – remarkable considering the encounter was still finely poised at 75-73 with 7:07 remaining.Before then though, Jarrett Haines kicked the evening’s scoring off with a tough layup finish through traffic, while Rodrigo Gomez’s staunch defending and subsequent steal saw Mvuezolo charge away in transition to double their lead.A sloppy turnover from an inbound pass gave Belfast Star their first points of the game, during a nip-and-tuck opening quarter as the two sides traded a handful of lead changes.The visitors had five different scorers in that period, with Conor Johnston and their leading scorer Chrishon Briggs drilling threes to end the quarter with a one-point advantage, shortly after Eoin Rockall delivered a fine triple down the other end.Briggs finished with 32 and got his baskets a variety of ways, including almost half at the foul line (14-of-15 made free-throws).  The only other player getting there half as much was Rockall, who had 18 points and his second-half aggressiveness provided a notable influence for his teammates to feed off.It felt like Mvuezolo and Briggs were trading buckets in the second quarter – both recorded 10 in that frame – while others pitched in to avoid Galway being overwhelmed by a surge before the break.Cathal Finn completed a four-point play after a clever drive-and-kick pass into him by Rockall, making a corner three under pressure as Jonathan James fouled him in the act of shooting.He made the subsequent free-throw and the game was tied at 32-apiece with 4:24 remaining, but again the visitors looked to use slick ball movement and clean looks to open up a commanding lead.  Maximillian Cooper’s teardrop and a clever Max Richardson layup saw them score on consecutive possessions, before Haines harried their defence into another mistake.  Following another foul committed by a bemused looking James, Belfast recorded almost double (25) the amount of fouls Maree amassed over 40 minutes and their inability to consistently contest without fouling didn’t age well.However at half-time, they led by one after their danger man Briggs had the final say at the free-throw line himself with Mvuezolo penalised in the paint.  The back-and-forth nature of this contest continued after the restart, as Zvonimir Cutuk got his first points of the game – a rebound up one end, finish down the other, intricately created by Haines.Belfast then went on a 11-0 run, largely powered by Richardson and Briggs, before Gomez’s quick hands in the paint – coupled with consecutive triples by Mvuezolo and Stephen Commins – saw the Belfast bench call a timeout.Patrick McGaharan had a minute to forget with two quick fouls, a one-shot technical and shooting foul on Rockall.  That sequence came after Zach Light’s defence created an important stop, jumping high and sliding into position as Galway’s collective efforts to slow down Briggs’ scoring production intensified.Team co-captain Commins, who has featured sporadically this season, ended the third with a transition layup – created himself – to give the hosts a three-point lead before the final quarter.Briggs looked to end the period with aplomb, but his dribble moves were thwarted by a diligent defence as Mvuezolo, Light and Commins all combined to stifle his attempt.  Into the fourth they went, and Commins’ final flurry came after another stop. Rockall’s clever drive-and-kick fed the man of the moment, who let a corner three fly and sealed a season-high 14 points.That saw the lead double to six, and despite Briggs’ best efforts, it would soon worsen after a Maree timeout at 75-73. For all of Light’s defensive nous, it was also great to see the New Yorker in possession during late-game situations.

He had ten fourth-quarter points – equalling his season high scoring tally – and was regularly directing decisions, whether off-ball or in possession during the final five minutes.

Mvuezolo and Rockall pitched in during a one-sided finish, with Belfast crucially worn down in attack.

They can earn immediate redemption in Super League play next Saturday (7pm) when the sides meet again at Calasanctius College.

Meanwhile, Bright St Vincents await Maree in the Cup semi-finals (January 7th/8th).

University of Galway Maree coach Charlie Crowley gave this reaction to the win to Cóilín Duffy.

University of Galway Maree player Jarett Haines also gave this reaction to the victory to Cóilín Duffy.

Scorers for University of Galway Maree: Joe-Junior Mvuezolo 33, Eoin Rockall 18, Stephen Commins 14, Zach Light 10, Jarett Haines 9, Cathal Finn 4, Zvonimir Cutuk 2, Rodrigo Gomez 2.
Scorers for Belfast Star: Chrishon Briggs 32, Max Richardson 18, Conor Quinn 13, Maximillan Cooper 6, Conor Johnston 4, Oisin Kerlin 2, Aidan Quinn 2.

University of Galway Maree:Starting line-up: Eoin Rockall, Rodrigo Gomez, Jarett Haines, Joe-Junior Mvuezolo, Zvonimir Cutuk.

Bench: Cathal Finn, Stephen Commins, Ben Burke, Zach Light, Matthew Sweeney, Malik Thiam, Paul Freeman.Belfast Star:Starting line-up: Conor Quinn, Aidan Quinn, Maximillian Cooper, Chrishon Briggs, Max Richardson.

Bench: Jonathan James, Jack Summersgill, Conor Johnston, Patrick McGaharan, Liam Pettigrew, Oisin Kerlin.