Neptune 82 Killorglin CYMS 87:Though they had beaten their hosts in the league at Neptune Stadium, only the white heat of a National Cup semi final would thrust a surging Killorglin outfit into the pressure cooker they needed to truly interrogate their wellbeing.
That they got a serious gut check from their illustrious hosts in the President’s Cup semi last night is beyond doubt – but so too is Killorglin’s ability to deal with a bone fide stress test.
That they overcame a Roy Downey-inspired Neptune was down in the main to a MVP effort at both ends of the court from their grafting Lithuanian import Daniel Jakubaitis, who not only contributed a game-high 31 points, but also nailed a huge basket under pressure when Killorglin’s nerves were fraying in a frantic last minute.
It would hardly have been a surprise if basketball’s pecking order didn’t merit a mention in the home dressing room before the game.
Neptune remains one of the iconic names in the game in Ireland, and in the context of pennants, Killorglin simply can’t compare.
But fresh winds blows through the game here these days, and the Kerry town renowned for crowning a goat every August can rut heads with the best of them now. A 13-0 Men’s Division One record this season tells its own story so the visitors were hardly troubled by Neptune’s fast start, 8-0 up in the first minute.
However, the difficulty in handling Downey would persist throughout and Neptune enjoyed a healthy 26-17 lead at the end of the opening quarter.
One of the visiting players, Ian McLoughlin, knew the baskets better than his colleagues having been a former Neptune player, and he shone bright with a huge opening half effort of 16 points, reducing the gap to one at the interval (44-43, Neptune).
It took Killorglin until the opening exchanges of the second period to get their noses in front (45-44), with Jokubaitis, the game’s most persuasive talent, swishing three more to keep Neptune at arm’s length.
The Lithuanian hit his 20th point with 5.43 left in the third to push the Kerry side three clear, and was carrying the scoring load for his American colleagues Grey and St Fort, nailing a hat-trick of threes to push the Division 1 leaders eight clear (59-51).
What Roy Downey could do in the first half, the Lithuanian responded in kind after the break, killing Neptune from outside. Guard Kevin Grey was getting to the basket, but not converting, much to his frustration. However his offloads to Croatian colleague Bogdanovic were handy fodder for the 6’8” centre, who had accumulated 14 points by the close of business in the third quarter.
And Grey’s biggest input was yet to come.
Declan Wall nailed a three and Bogdanovic continued his stock in trade in the paint to ease Killorglin into a 66-56 edge with 1.28 left in the third quarter.
Brian O’Neill was introduced by Neptune coach to telling effect, nailing a three with his first contribution to keep the Cork men in touch, and Downey converted two from the line to make it a 68-61 game going into the final quarter.
Downey was playing hurt, but he was still Neptune’s primary offensive threat and finished with an impressive 26.
Neptune’s under age programme has produced precocious talents, including Adam Heaphy, who had a frustrating night on offence, and couldn’t get the ball to fall but American Marshall kept Killorglin honest by chipping in with a lay-up to close the gap to 70-65.
Jakubaitis was ridiculous from downtown, draining a fourth three with 7.56 left, but Downey slalomed in for the reply, and added the bonus. They were unquestionably the game’s hot hands on the night.
Neptune weren’t going to lie down easy. There was enough of pennants on the walls around them to remind everyone of their hoops heritage and when Marshall stuffed it for his 18 th point with 6.35 remaining, it brought Neptune to within three. This was the moment to determined how much Cup tradition would be a factor down the stretch.
Kevin Grey, who has taken to life in Mid Kerry like a man strolling in from Caragh Lake, hit two free throws and then drive for another two to give Killorglin breathing space with 3.05 left (79-72). He was unerring from the line again to push the lead to nine, and when Marshall’s jumper didn’t drop Neptune were playing against the clock too.
Neptune’s American did hit an unlikely three under pressure to reduce it to six (77-83) with 1.33 remaining as Killorglin reintroduced 39-year-old guard Wall to try and shut the semi-final down.
Neptune forced a turnover to give Connolly – who finished with 12 – an easy basket, but Wall hit one free throw to keep them four ahead, 84-80. Marshall responded with two, triggering a frenetic climax to the night. How appropriate then that the outstanding Jakubaitis should be the one to hit the fallaway jump shot to get the Kerry side over the line and into their first National Cup final.
Top scorers for Killorglin: Daniel Jokubaitis (31), Ivan Bogdanovic (16), Ian
McLoughlin (17), Kevin Grey (11), Darragh Jones (6).
Top scorers for Neptune: Roy Downey (26), Jarrel Marshall (23), Owen
Connolly (12), Enric Nogales (5).
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