BY BRAD COLE THE ADVOCATE The North-West Tall Timbers Thunder have returned to the winners list in style, grabbing the big scalp of conference rival Ballarat at Ulverstone on Friday night.
Led by a game-high 30 points from import Ahmad Starks, the Thunder survived a strong Miners comeback in the last quarter to improve their record to 5-8 going into the long weekend break.
The victory was set up in the opening quarter, with Starks connecting on all four of his three-point attempts as the home team shot 70 percent overall to lead 34-20.
Ballarat steadily chipped away at the margin over the next two quarters, and courtesy of some costly turnovers from the Thunder late in the third term, reduced the margin to 69-61 at the final change.
That gap was further reduced to just three points in the early stages of the last quarter as the Thunder offence started to stall badly.
But thanks to some timely jumps shots from Starks and Jeremiah Ingram, Sam Armstrong’s team never let the Miners take the lead.
A big three-pointer from Ben Richmond extended the lead to four points with 2:32 remaining before Starks and Chudier Pal sealed the win from the free-throw line.
Ingram finished with 16 points, while Richmond had an efficient 15 points on 5-7 shooting in just 13:55 of court time, and Daniel Sepokas added 10 points.
Armstrong said the win was a strong team effort, but praised the impact of Starks in the opening stages.
“He threw us on his back early and got us going then demanded a lot of pressure late in the game,” he said.
“He still made some good decisions, but we need his scoring punch every week.
“If we have guys not up on a certain night, we need others to step up, and that’s what happened tonight.”
The win also proved the Thunder can defend against the top teams, and Armstrong was relieved to keep a potent Miners team under 80 points, along with in-form guard Peter Hooley (9 points), who picked up SEABL player of the month honours for May after averaging 26.8 points per game.
“It was probably one of our better defensive efforts tonight as well to keep them to 78 points,” Armstrong said.
“There’s still some things we need to tighten up on and we didn’t execute very well in the last five minutes of the game.
“But we know we can beat the good team and it instills a little bit more self-belief.
“Hooley’s been one of the form guards of the league, but the thing about Ballarat is that every player they put on the court can play.
“We knew we had to do a job on him, as well as the four other guys on the floor as well.”
Craig Moller top scored for the Miners with 18 points, with Cameron McCallum and Marvin King-Davis adding 15 points each.
The SEABL has a break over the Queens Birthday long weekend, with the Thunder hitting the road to the nation’s capital after that for games against the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence and Canberra.