The Nunawading Spectres arrived at the Icehouse on Friday night looking to avenge for last season’s heartbreaking loss to the Pioneers in last year’s Grand Final. This was only further emphasised with the raising of the Championship banner prior to tip-off, leaving Coach Dave Biwer with little to do to motivate his side in this opening fixture. But it was the Pioneers who came out strong with new import Tyrone Lee setting the tone in early play with the opening basket of the game and following up with a strong performance on the defensive end. Lee was in everything which unfortunately resulted in early foul trouble but his battle with opposing big man Simon Conn was building as one to savour. Despite the efforts of their marquee signing, the Pioneers found themselves trailing late in the opening quarter until Damian Johnson entered the conversation. With a three from way downtown followed up with a no-look assist and back-to-back baskets Johnson gave the Pioneers a lead of 25-24 at quarter time.
The 22-game home court winning streak of the Pioneers looked set to continue early in the second quarter as Lee teamed up with Damian Johnson in an intimidating defensive effort. Brad Hill brought Matt Sutton into the game with a breakaway basket to add to the highlight reel but there was little to cheer for as the Spectres turned up the heat on the Pioneers at both ends of the court. Shane McDonald was being allowed too much room on his left side and Conn was poorly guarded as the Spectres took the game away from the Pioneers with emphatic team-first basketball.
Perhaps the biggest turning point in the game came when there was a controversial no-call on Lee midway through the second term which led to a quick transition down the other end for triple points which sucked the life out of the home crowd. New Spectres import Breland Hogan was court marshaling with great effect as he orchestrated the Spectres strong 2nd quarter showing and fought to the rim to expose the Pioneers on defence. With the clock winding down to half time Lee put the three goggles on in an attempt to raise some Pioneer passion and get the 6th man involved in play but the home side still trailed 37-48 at the main break.
At the halfway stage, Conn led all comers with 13 pts on 60% shooting and 4 rebounds whilst Johnson put up 11 pts on 63% shooting with 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks to lead the way for the Pioneers. Lee was providing adequate support for Johnson with 11 pts on 50% shooting with 3 rebounds and 2 blocks and McDonald was proving difficult to counter with 11 pts on 63% shooting with 3 rebounds and 1 assist for the Spectres.
The Pioneers were looking to Brad Hill (1-7) and Tom Daly (1-6) to generate some momentum heading into the second half with both players needing to catch fire if the Pioneers were to have any chance of getting back in the match. As if on cue, Hill came out firing with a quick two followed by a big three to cut the margin to single digits. Daly certainly heeded the half time advice from Coach Hill as he brought Erik Burdon into the game with success from long-range but the Pioneers were unable to chip away at the deficit still trailing 46-54. Delwan Graham was dominating the offensive boards for the Spectres as his constant put backs kept the Pioneers defenders at bay. Daly was doing his best to drag his side back into the contest on the back of a three-point play and was helped by Monyjath Makoi whose strong put back trimmed the margin back to 54-65 at the end of the third stanza. The teams were all square in the third quarter at 17-17 with the Spectres holding on to their half time lead of 11 points.
Conn further imposed himself on the match with the opening basket of the final term and quickly followed this up with a triple to extend the Spectres lead to 54-70. Burdon lifted the roof off the Icehouse with consecutive three pointers which gave him confidence to audition to become the third splash brother as he shot from another postcode only to see his effort lip out. Johnson became involved with a strong put back to bring the margin back to 12 points. What followed next has to be seen to be believed as the referee clearly mistook Lee for Johnson in handing out his decision which caused Lee to be disqualified from the game and brought the ire of the home fans. Daly tried to change the topic of conversation with a clever steal and fast break conversion but at 71-83 the writing was on the wall for the Pioneers late in the game. Sutton’s triple would be the last addition to the scoreboard in a night the Pioneers would rather forget going down 74-88 and ending their 22-game winning streak at home.
The combination of Conn (23 pts, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocks) and McDonald (18pts 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal) was too much for the Pioneers to overcome as poor shooting, Spectres’ points in the paint and stagnant offence contributed to their demise. Burdon (16pts) provided the team with some much needed X-factor on offence and was strongly supported by Johnson (15 pts, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 7 blocks). Lee was good early but struggled with his shot most of the night to shoot 11 pts at 26%, Daly (10pts, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) tried valiantly all night to lift his team whilst Hill (11pts, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block) appeared to be carrying an injury and could not carry his side to victory.
The Pioneers will be looking to improve on tonight’s performance when they take on the Canberra Gunners next week at home whilst Nunawading will return home full of confidence where they take on the Albury-Wodonga Bandits.
By Tom Telfer