UEL men’s basketball thirds narrowly lost out to their title rivals Canterbury Christ Church in a hard-fought contest at the Sports Dock.
Canterbury went into the game six points clear at the top, extending that gap to nine with victory today making them favourites for the league title at this stage.
Canterbury were on good form, winning all league matches this season, whilst UEL’s last taste of defeat was against the Kent side by a mere three points on the opening week of fixtures.
UEL, in their deep blue strip, looked determined to get off to a good start and they almost did within seconds with a shot that came crashing back of the rim of the basket. However, it was Canterbury who drew first blood and their attacking players, numbers 27 and 17, started as they meant to go on with some clinical scoring.
UEL hit back almost immediately as Karama converted a three pointer, before Denning-Sen put the hosts into a 5-4 lead. Canterbury performed one of the best moves of the first quarter, with some fantastic flowing basketball from the attackers finished off in style by the number nine.
Some crucial points went begging as free throws were missed fairly frequently, and both sides were neck and neck at 14-14 all before Canterbury pulled away into a 19-14 lead. With the first quarter almost over, UEL’s Gibson finished off a good run with a basket, before Frost performed a brilliant three point shot to level the game up at 19 apiece.
Early exchanges had proven very tight in this top-of-the-table clash. It was breathless, end-to-end play, and the scores could have been greater if the free-throw conversion rate was better. If the last match between these two was anything to go by, we were going to be in for a thoroughly entertaining game.
UEL seized the initiative as the second quarter got underway. Two Canterbury free throws went a miss, but UEL’s Zac Nelson made no mistake scoring from just under the basket to put his side 21-19 up. Nelson could’ve added to his tally moments later but his shot bounced back off the ring of the basket. However, Canterbury started to show why they are leading the table as they surged into a 26-21 lead courtesy of their number 27 yet again.
Yet again, UEL’s determination and spirit allowed them to recover the score to 26 all, as Andre drove towards the basket before converting. However, this wouldn’t last long. Despite two free throws from UEL’s Clayton it was Canterbury who finished the quarter with a 38-32 advantage.
Canterbury showed their quality and clinical edge in front of the basket during the second quarter. UEL showed good determination in and around the key, this time it was the accuracy of free throws which prevented them from falling to far behind. There was no doubt that the hosts would need a big effort in the third quarter to stand a chance of recovering the deficit they faced.
After the halfway interval, UEL managed to reduce Canterbury’s lead to just three points, Nelson once again got his name on the score sheet. Despite this early show of intent from the home team, Canterbury proved relentless as they created a seven-point gap between the two sides. The score stood at 47-40, thanks to the flair and skill of the Canterbury number 17 who executed a ‘slam-dunk’ right in front of the UEL supporters.
The visitors’ attacking quality was evident again as they exploited the gaps that began to appear in UEL’s half of the court. Players 27, 17 and 18 were prominent in the scoring which gave Canterbury a 54-45 lead heading into the final 10 minutes.
Canterbury were starting to run away with the match now, utilising the spaces on the court to great effect. UEL looked frustrated as the score margin widened; they knew that it was going to be a challenge to get something from the match, but certainly not impossible by any stretch.
Canterbury extended the lead to 13-points at the start of the final quarter, before UEL hit back via Karama and Denning-Sen. UEL enjoyed a spell of pressure as they searched for points to recover some ground. Then, UEL’s Manalo got in on the scoring act, taking the score to 62-51.
In the last five minutes, UEL had much of the ball and found a second wind as they orchestrated an inspiring recovery to put them within touching distance of levelling the score. Karama, Andre and Powell all scored, plus two excellent opportunities slipped from their grasp which could have made all the difference. Despite a wave of UEL pressure and some resilient defensive play, UEL could not make up the deficit as Canterbury were awarded free throws, which they converted, leaving the final score at 70-62 to the visitors.
Overall, the first two quarters were very hard to predict as both sides matched each other step for step for a significant period of the match. Canterbury’s dominance in the third quarter was perhaps a deciding factor in their victory, but it certainly wasn’t comfortable. UEL showed great professionalism and fight giving everything to get something from the match. However, had they converted their missed chances in the last quarter, the result could have been very different.
That was the last action of 2016 for both teams, who will recommence what have been very positive starts to their respective campaigns in the New Year.