During yesterday’s post-match celebrations, Albury/Wodonga head coach Brad Chalmers spoke of his team’s desire to earn respect by proving themselves against the heavyweights of the league.
Their Conference Final victory over Knox went a long way to warranting that respect, but their come from behind win over Dandenong in the Championship Final on Saturday has surely cemented them as a deserving and legitimate champion.
It was a strong start to the match for the Bandits, who limited Dandenong to just a Ben Louis three-pointer for the opening three-and-a-half minutes. But a stern talking to from Coach Darren Perry during a timeout seemed to fire up the Rangers, who went on a subsequent 18-8 run to lead by seven at quarter time.
Dandenong carried that momentum into the second term, and halfway through the period the Rangers had opened up a ten-point advantage thanks to a Daequon Montreal jumper. But back-to-back three’s from Alex Opacic and Matt De Koeyer helped turn the tide for the Bandits, and they finished the half on an 11-4 run to trail by only 4 at the main break.
Dandenong came out of half time with strong intent as Tony Lewis knocked in his first three-point attempt. But the raucous band of Albury-Wodonga supporters became the sixth member of the Bandits in the second half with their deafening chants and cheers. Albury/Wodonga methodically chipped away at the deficit, with an Opacic bucket from long range tying up the match.
As the game started to swing in the Bandits favour, Lewis took it upon himself to bring his team back into the contest. Intercepting the ball at mid-court, he thundered down the lane for a dunk, and just 30 seconds later backed up his efforts with a three pointer. His one-man show quietened the crowd momentarily and gave the Rangers a one-point lead going into the final quarter.
The final term can only be described as an arm-wrestle, with neither team able to break away, and defence being at an absolute premium. But in the final two minutes, Matt de Koeyer struck from deep to put Albury/Wodonga ahead. A minute later, Daequon Montreal was pure on his shot for the Rangers, tying the game with 47 seconds to go.
In a somewhat broken offensive play that followed, Jazzmar Ferguson missed from long range, but Mohamed Ntumba was there to dunk the ball home and put the Bandits ahead, 65-63. Dandenong called a time out and drew a play for a Tony Lewis jump shot, but his three-point attempt was unsuccessful on the buzzer, whipping the legion of Bandits fans and players into a frenzy.
For his 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, Nick Payne was awarded the Hugh McMeniman medal for Most Valuable Player. Ntumba recorded a double-double, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds (6 of them offensive). Alex Opacic had 15 points on 3-7 shooting from the three point line, while Ben Hollis pulled down an impressive 9 rebounds. At the point guard position, Ferguson was productive with 11 points and 6 assists, but his 6 steals and only 2 turnovers were just as important to the Bandits win.
His direct opponent, Andrew Harms, picked up 10 rebounds to go along with 5 points while Montreal chipped in with 14, while Lewis’ 21 points was a game high. Overall, Albury/Wodonga shot at 35% from the field compared to Dandenong’s 39% but the Bandits 12 offensive rebounds vs Dandenong’s six led them to score 12 more points in the paint. It was a memorable day for a club that turned around a horrid 2011 season in which they won just three games to become the SEABL Champions the following year.
Albury-Wodonga 65 (Ntumba 16, Opacic 15)
Dandenong 63 (Lewis 21, Montreal 14)
Hugh McMenamin medallist for MVP: Nick Payne (Albury-Wodonga)