Last-gasp victory shows Ipswich’s new QBL Force
IT was an Ipswich team celebration worthy of a state league grand final triumph.
However, the emotion, delight and pride was deserved despite only being the first match of the Queensland Basketball League season.
In the most exciting finish at Ipswich stadium in many years, the Ipswich Force men upset the powerful Gold Coast team 86-85.
Ipswich's most valuable player and newly appointed captain James Legan led the way on Saturday night with 26 points. That included a pressure shot, with 9.3 seconds left, that kept his team in the hunt.
However, another hero was Sudanese national Adoc Makwai, who was only cleared to play on the eve of Ipswich's 2016 state league opener at Booval.
With seconds remaining after two time outs, Makwai nailed the match-winning two-pointer that completed a stunning Ipswich fightback.
"I'm really proud of the boys on that,'' delighted head coach Mick Conlon said.
"I was speaking at halftime about arm wrestles and we could quite easily have lost that.
"We were not looking pretty in the third quarter.''
In his sixth season as QBL head coach, Conlon has seen some nail-biting finishes in the hotly contested state competition. However, he rated Ipswich's latest victory up with the best.
"We never gave up and that's one of the things that we want to be known as - a tough team that never gives up,'' Conlon said.
Captain Legan was inspirational when needed most.
"He was electric in the fourth quarter,'' the head coach said.
"I really want to give a special mention to Adoc. Defensively, he turned the game for us, just up and in and lifted the team.
"He's just a good kid. He lives in the area and he bustled his butt off.''
Ipswich's starting five included three players from the side that reached last year's QBL playoffs. That was American imports Legan and Kyle Harvey, along with the valuable James Kuon.
However, the added height and power from newcomers Brent Wallace and Jaryd Eustace gave the Ipswich team a title-contending look. And some fine back-up players are still to join the Force squad after fulfilling their College commitments in the US.
Conlon let his players enjoy the euphoria of beating a Gold Coast side he once coached and that contains seven players with NBL experience.
However, it's back to work this week preparing for Ipswich's second home game on Sunday.
"We have got a super tough game next week against Townsville,'' Conlon said.
"That's going to be an absolute dogfight and another exciting game.''
Legan, in his third season with the Force, showed why he is a crowd favourite by leading his team triumphantly off the court sharing the moment with Force fans.
With nine seconds left, Ipswich thought Legan had nailed a three-pointer to level the scores at 85-85. But only a two-point reward was given.
"Most teams emotionally could quit on that because that really takes the spirit out them,'' Conlon said.
"But I told them what to do defensively and they listened to me. They went out and did it. It was awesome.''
In a fine team effort, Conlon also praised newcomer Wallace for a solid performance and Kuon for his 12 rebounds.
"He's a quiet achiever of the league,'' Conlon said of Kuon.
After leading 23-21 at quarter-time, Force slipped behind 43-40 at halftime before being down 65-56 at the final change.
At times, Gold Coast looked to be exerting their superiority.
However, Ipswich's patience and determination paid off, even with an unexpected stoppage. The game was halted with three minutes remaining as officials checked the scoreboard result.
The score was revised from 75-74 in Gold Coast's favour to 77-72 to the visitors.
That also failed to rattle the home side that got back on track through a Eustace three-pointer, Legan's outstanding leadership, Harvey's control and Makwai's finishing magic.
State of play
QBL men: Ipswich Force 86 (James Legan 26, Kyle Harvey 19, Jaryd Eustace 16) def Gold Coast 85.
QBL women: Gold Coast 68 def Ipswich Force 62 (Bree Farley 15, Ashleigh Heal 14, Shyla Heal 13).
Next matches: v Townsville at Ipswich stadium on Sunday, May 8, at noon and 2pm.