Albury-Wodonga Bandits steal the show

Albury-Wodonga Bandits skipper Nick Payne fights off the defensive attention of Sandringham's Nathan Crosswell. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL
Albury-Wodonga Bandits skipper Nick Payne fights off the defensive attention of Sandringham's Nathan Crosswell. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

FIRST they had it won, then they’d lost it, and then, finally, the Albury-Wodonga Bandits sealed the deal just in the nick of time.

Even when they win it seems, the Bandits just don’t do things the easy way.

The Border club finally emerged triumphant from a close contest, defeating the hot-shooting Sandringham Sabres, 101-100, in a rollicking, drama-filled SEABL encounter at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre on Saturday night.

Leading by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, the Bandits almost threw it all away in a thrilling final period, trailing 100-98 before import playmaker Jermel Jenkins ultimately settled matters with a spectacular pull-up three-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining.

The Sabres, who were celebrating mere seconds earlier after Ben Kelly’s triple had given them the lead, were subsequently unable to get a shot off in time, sparking scenes of jubilation from the raucous crowd of almost 900.

With his parents watching proudly from the stands, Jenkins set aside several weeks of poor form to top-score for the Border club with 24 points and six assists.

He was well supported by Nick Payne and Alex Opacic (20 points each) while forward Flenard Whitfield chimed in with a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Bench sparkplug Jack Duck provided several crucial late baskets to finish with 11 points on 4-5 shooting.

For Sandringham, the import combination of John Pichon and Patrick Richard proved a tough cover, with both forwards scoring 22 points.

Bandits coach Brad Chalmers admitted he was worried during Sandringham’s comeback.

“For the most part we were pretty good and then that flat patch again probably comes from being on the losing end of those close ones,” he said.

“I’m sick of seeing teams come in here and shoot high percentages, that’s very frustrating.

“I don’t think it was poor defence, just seems to be one of those gyms that people come into and have shot well.

“When you have a lead like that, I was worried but at the same time, I was trying to say we could get this if we want it.”

The Bandits came to play from the outset, showing a crispness to their offence that had been absent recently.

But Sandringham, like their female counterparts earlier, tied the scores at quarter-time, 25-apiece.

The arm-wrestle continued before the Bandits made a run to take a 55-45 lead on the back of Jenkins’ buzzer-beater from international waters.

Leading by 12 points with less than eight minutes left, the Bandits seemed secure but the Sabres had other ideas.

A blistering 13-2 run brought the visitors to within a point before a Duck triple calmed nerves, at least momentarily.

The teams traded baskets in a frenetic final three minutes, neither able to grab the ascendancy until Jenkins’ heroics.