BY BRAD COLE THE ADVOCATE Thrilling finishes and victory haven’t been on the best of terms with each other for the North-West Tall Timbers Thunder in recent seasons.
However all those heartbreaking losses were quickly forgotten at Ulverstone on Saturday night as a timely block from Chudier Pal gave the home side a 81-78 win over defending SEABL champions Bendigo.
Memories of Melbourne’s game-winning shot in round three were firmly at the forefront of everyone’s mind with 6.9 seconds left on the clock and the ball the hands of Braves import Dyami Starks.
But as he found his position to release a three-point shot, the long left arm of Pal intervened and tipped the ball straight up to give the Thunder their second win for the season and snap a four-game losing streak.
The result was vindication for coach Sam Armstrong that the new-look team is on the right track after a rough start.
“I’m proud of the boys because no one knows the hard work we have been putting in behind the scenes during this tough period and this result was a reward for that.” Armstrong said.
“We had a game plan and we stuck to it, whereas in previous games we’ve had a lot of mental lapses in games.
“There has been a heap of change within the club this year – I know that, the players know that and I’m sticking true to the process.
“I tell the guys they’ve got to trust what we are trying to do and we actually did that tonight.
“The self-belief starts sinking in that we can compete with the best teams in the league.”
While the Thunder were led by 22 points from Jeremiah Ingram and 20 points from Ahmad Starks, Armstrong also had plenty of praise for the overall game of Pal, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“We had a plan coming out of the time out to execute defensively, and Chudier really stepped up for us – he was able to get a hand on the shot,” Armstrong said.
“I’m really proud of him – he’s had back-to-back double-double games now in points and rebounds, along with four blocks tonight in 25 minutes of court time.”
With Daniel Sepokas back in the team, the Thunder looked a better team on offence from the outset.
They kept the Braves at arm’s length for the majority of the opening three quarters, but Ben Harvey’s team started to capitalise as the shots started to miss for the home team in the fourth term.
Scores were tied with 5:50 remaining before the visitors took a one-point lead on the back of a outrageous three-point play from Adam Doyle.
Starks put the Thunder back up by a point thanks to a tough mid-range jump shot with 50 seconds to go, then extended the margin to three from the foul line after a vital offensive rebound from Sepokas 40 seconds later.
Harvey drew up one final play from the ensuing time out, before Pal’s heroics.
Bendigo big man Matthew Andronicos looked a threat all game, ending with 20 points, with Charles Aiken and Dyami Starks chipping in with 16 points apiece.
The Thunder head interstate next week for a one-game road trip against Melbourne, with Armstrong looking for a similar performance.
“We have to maintain this standard now and not fall below it,” Armstrong said.
“We had the full group back tonight and we showed a little bit of what we are capable of when that happens.”