FOURTEEN seconds. Fourteen lousy, stinking seconds.
That’s the total amount of time the Nunawading Spectres led the Albury-Wodonga Bandits in their SEABL clash at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for the crowd of almost 900 raucous fans, it was just enough for the visitors to escape with a heartbreaking 86-85 win, spoiling what would have been a fairytale farewell for Bandits champion Nick Payne in his 400th SEABL game.
Mitch Creek’s free throw with 14 seconds remaining provided the final margin, with the hosts unable to get a shot off after Alex Bogart-King’s final attempt was stripped from his hands and fell harmlessly out of bounds as the buzzer sounded.
Playing their best basketball in more than a month, Albury-Wodonga led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before the Spectres roared back into the match on the back of former Bandits point guard Shane McDonald.
The Horsham native dropped three-straight triples before half-time and then directed his teammates superbly in the second half to hand the Spectres a fifth consecutive win and maintain second position in the East conference standings.
In his final home game for the Bandits, Payne was epic in defeat, scoring a season-high 31 points, including several clutch jumpers that dragged the hosts to within agonising distance of a huge upset victory.
“It’s a tough way to lose — one point and the way we lost probably makes it tougher,” he said.
“The boys played fantastic, it was probably the best four quarters we’ve put together all year.
“They’re (Nunawading) a quality team and we knew they’d come at us eventually and we held them off for 39 minutes and 46 seconds.
“It’s disappointing, I would’ve loved to have walked away with a win to celebrate but I had a good game individually, I can hang my hat on that and that will be a good memory to take away.”
In the absence of star centre Simon Conn (calf), McDonald topscored for Nunawading with 26 points, while Creek and pivot Chris Cameron added 21 and 15 respectively.
For Albury-Wodonga, US import Lamar Mallory added a neat double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds, including a monstrous alley-oop dunk in the first quarter that electrified the crowd.
Bandits coach Brad Chalmers said while it was a brutal way to lose, overall he was happy with the effort of his players against an elite team featuring no less than five present or former NBL players.
“The feeling right now is heartbreaking,” Chalmers said.
“But I’m also content that we played well, we played the right way.
“Things at the end of a game can go either way and it went Nuna’s way tonight.
“Probably our offence got a bit stagnant in the second half.
“Defensively I thought we were pretty good, but they had four or five wide-open threes and they made them.
“They were probably a little more consistent with their execution in the second half and some of their better players stepped up when they needed them to.
“Our guys battled their arses off, very happy with that; and that’s the growth we need next year.”