By ROY WARD
THE South East Australian Basketball League east men’s conference title came down to one shot at Dandenong Stadium on Saturday night.
One contested, uncertain three-point shot from Dandenong Rangers import Daequon Montreal, a centre whose three-point shooting percentage ranked eighth on the team coming into the conference final against Geelong Supercats.
But with the Supercats leading 72-70 with 18 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down, Montreal was left with a potential game-winner from in front of the visitor’s bench and had to take it.
It went in, sending a near capacity stadium into raptures. In Montreal’s own words, it “felt good all the way” as the Rangers took a 73-72 lead, leaving the Supercats with the last play of the game to take the win.
After a Supercats’ miss, centre Sebastian Loader pulled in the offensive rebound but before he could do anything with the ball, Rangers guard Lucas Barker stole it from his hands, then avoided the Supercats’ desperate attempts to foul before being unceremoniously shouldered to the ground by Supercats forward Dominic Friend with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Barker missed his second shot deliberately only for Rangers forward Tony Lewis to tip-in the miss on the buzzer to give the Rangers a 75-72 win and the SEABL east conference title.
The Rangers will face south conference winners Albury-Wodonga Bandits for the SEABL championship at the State Basketball Centre, Wantirna South, this Saturday at 3pm.
Montreal, who was in doubt for the game after spending the past two weeks recovering from an ankle injury, said he was proud to make the title-winning shot.
“I knew we needed someone to get a shot,” he said. “The shot clock was low and I had to take it. Harmsy [Andrew Harms] penetrated, I think it was Harmsy, he found me and it felt good all the way.”
In a compelling, physical contest, the Rangers needed cameos from various players to help them keep with the carefree Cats, whose outside shooting kept them in the game and at times in the lead against an inconsistent Rangers offence.
Ash Arnott (13 points, four three-pointers) was on fire in the opening term for the Rangers and star point guard Harms scored all 11 of his points in the final term to pull the Rangers back level with the Supercats.
Montreal led the Rangers with 14 points in just 23 minutes as Rangers coach Darren Perry made sure he didn’t overplay his returning star.
Supercats import Theron Wilson led all scorers with 17 points and Supercats veteran point guard Nick Owusu was a constant menace with 14 points, five assists and four steals.
A relieved Perry put it simply after the game. “If that shot didn’t fall, Geelong would be walking around with those medals around their necks.”
The Rangers now face the Bandits, who beat Knox Raiders in Albury to win the south conference behind the play of star point guard Jazz Ferguson.