The daunting prospect of a maiden doubleheader on the road was not enough to slow the growing momentum of the Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men in last weekend’s fourth NBL1 South round.
Within 24 hours the Pioneers took on Dandenong Rangers and Melbourne Tigers and came away with two more wins from the huge weekend which also celebrated Mother’s Day.
Before tip off players sported pink shirts in support of the Play4BCNA round, but there was nothing rosy on the court with the home side des- perate to claim its maiden win of the season.
Although Tom Kubank and Nick Marshall gave Mount Gambier a 5-0 head start, the Rangers soon surged ahead off the back of some red hot shooting from Sean Macdonald from behind the three-point line.
Dandenong took a three-point lead into the first break and extended the advantage in the second term as Pioneers’ star Duom Dawam was forced to watch the proceedings unfold from the bench after experi- encing foul trouble.
Another Macdonald three just before the half time buzzer pushed the Rangers’ lead closer to double figures.
With nine minutes to go in the third term, Dandenong looked well placed to cause an upset leading by 15 points, but Mount Gambier was not out of the game.
The return of Dawam to the floor brought an instant impres- sion scoring seven points in 90 seconds before a Nick Marshall three-pointer sent the Pioneers flying into the final break.
Sensing a window back in the game, Mount Gambier used its momentum to suddenly level the scoreboard just three minutes into the last term and fans were on the edge of their seats.
Monyjath Makoi stepped up to give the Pioneers the lead for the first time since the opening term and the home side was strug- gling to slow the visitors pace.
As the finish approached some of Mount Gambier’s big names rose to the occasion with Dawam and Titus Robinson teaming up under the ring to put the Rangers on the back foot.
Dandenong started to get des- perate and conceded a number of fouls in the final minute to allow the Pioneers to ice the game with some free throws.
Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men coach Richard Hill said the 97-91 win was the best of the season so far after players and sup- port staff had to think on their feet to overcome a spirited Rangers team.
“Dandenong did surprise me a little bit and played very well to easily be our toughest opponent so far which does not look right on the ladder,” he said.
“They shot the ball extremely well in the first half, so we had some defensive breakdowns early in the third quarter and made some adjustments.
“We got them right and from halfway through the third until the end we did not do much wrong.
“We tightened up our defence and made a 23-point turnaround in a short period of time, which was our best effort of the season.” In just his second outing on court since quarantine, Robinson found his feet with 21 points and Hill said the new recruit showed terrific signs of improvement.
“Titus was a big part of our come- back win,” he said.
“We turned things around when he came into the game with his defence plus putting some points on the board.
“He will continue to get better because he still has not had a lot of basketball, but he does everything the right way being tough, competi- tive and a great team man.” Following an intense Saturday night, the Pioneers had to hit the floor again for a contest with Melbourne Tigers on Sunday afternoon.
But thankfully for the visitors, they did not encounter a similar challenge and eased to a 123-95 win.
At one point Mount Gambier enjoyed a 43-point lead thanks to huge efforts in the first and third terms.
Nick Marshall was in top form shooting 32 points from 26 minutes of court time.
Dawam was effective at both ends of the court and complied 20 points plus 10 defensive rebounds, while Kubank sunk all five three-point attempts.
The margin of victory could have been even greater, but a “little careless” final term from the Pioneers allowed the Tigers to hit seven threes.
However, that small detail did little to slow Mount Gambier’s momentum as the side sits a healthy third on the ladder and races into a home game with Knox this Saturday night full of confidence.
The side appears to be raising its game every time it hits the floor and Hill said the group will keep its head down this weekend facing an incon- sistent Raiders who are 13th on the ladder.
“We just want to continue to try and get better,” he said.
“We still think we can improve significantly and we need to do that if we are to compete with the best teams.
“Another full week of training with Titus will be good for everyone, so we are looking forward to trying to get even better this Saturday night.”