NEWCASTLE Hunters left their run too late in a 79-77 loss to Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in a nail-biting Waratah Basketball League championship men’s game at Broadmeadow on Saturday night.
Newcastle’s frenetic fourth-quarter fightback fell just short as Manly ended the home team’s winning streak at nine games.
Despite tasting defeat for the first time in three months, the Hunters still lead the league with a 14-3 win-loss record but Manly (13-4) and Norths (13-4) have closed the gap to one game with three rounds remaining in the regular season.
The Hunters were out of sorts for most of the game on Saturday, trailing 20-16 after the first quarter, 41-29 at half-time and 63-44 heading into the final term.
Down 70-46 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, a blow-out looked likely but Austin Thornton (33 points, 18 rebounds, three steals, two assists), Jacob Foy (17 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals) and Jakob Dorricott (11 points) sparked a 31-9 run to close the game.
Newcastle were out-rebounded 62-48 and, ultimately, paid for their poor shooting percentages of 37% from the floor, 21% from three-point range and 60% from the free-throw line.
“We made it hard for ourselves with a poor start to the game, we shot a low percentage, and our defence wasn’t great,” Newcastle coach Darren Nichols said.
“Our last-quarter effort was fantastic but we just couldn’t get there.- - Darren Nichols
“But credit where credit’s due to Manly, and we were out-played.
“Our last-quarter effort was fantastic but we just couldn’t get there. We can’t afford to give teams a 20-point head start, so hopefully we learn a lesson from that.”
Newcastle remain well placed for a top-two finish, rounding off the regular season with games against last-placed Bankstown at Bankstown next Saturday, then neighbouring rivals Central Coast at Terrigal on July 28 and Maitland at Broadmeadow on August 4.
The Hunters women’s team, who had a bye at the weekend, are still fourth with a 9-5 record. They will return to action against fifth-placed Bankstown (7-6) at Bankstown next Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Maitland Mustangs kept their faint play-off hopes flickering with a 96-86 win over cellar dwellers Bankstown Bruins in Sydney.
Import Tyler Munroe drained a season high 38 points, making 17 of 24, to go with 16 rebounds.
The Mustangs dominated the paint. They won the rebound count 51-37 and scored 60 points from inside the key.
Daniel Millburn also had a hot hand, scoring 27 points.
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