Albury-Wodonga Bandits cruise to victory

The Albury-Wodonga Bandits clamped down hard on a decimated Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence on Saturday night, punishing the SEABL upstarts in the first half of a 104-87 win.

A ruthless display at both ends of the court saw the Bandits claim a 52-29 half-time lead and — despite taking their foot off the gas and a much-improved performance from the visitors in the second half — were seldom threatened thereafter.

The win gives the Border outfit a two-game winning streak and keeps it in touch with the East Conference top four.

A good crowd of more than 700 people at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre saw the hot-shooting Bandits (42/72 field goals at 58 per cent) enjoy their best scoring spread for the season with seven players notching double-digit point totals.

Quicksilver point guard Jamar Briscoe led the way with 21 points while Alex Opacic and Alex Bogart-King added 19 and 17 points respectively.

Darcy Harding chimed in with a season-high 12 points, Jack Duck came off the bench to score 11 and Nick Payne flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

Still hampered by knee soreness, import pivot Momo Ntumba’s minutes were again monitored closely but the Congolese giant still managed 10 points, six boards and two blocks.

The Centre of Excellence squad was without six of its best players, absent with the Australian under-17 team on its tour of China as part of preparations for the FIBA world championships.

But that didn’t deter guard Gabriel Hadley — in just his second game for the team — from nailing 7 of 9 triples, all in the second half, on his way to a game-high 23 points.

Forward George Blagojevic added 18 points and young star Jack McVeigh showed his versatility with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Earlier, an entertaining first period saw the hosts skip out to a quick 7-2 advantage on their way to a 26-19 quarter-time lead.

Some crisp offensive movement allowed the Border club to widen the margin to 33-21 midway through the second and the alarm bells were ringing for the visitors.

The CoE misfired on 13 of its 17 attempts for the period, repeatedly hoisting ill-advised shots from beyond the three-point arc as the deficit continued to mount.

Briscoe opened the scoring to start the second half but a good run from the CoE had coach Brad Chalmers calling for time.

The refocused Bandits reeled off the next six points to ensure the visitors never really got a sniff, the three-quarter-time advantage still 19 points, 81-62.

A quick 5-0 burst from the CoE cut the deficit to 14 but an Opacic triple steadied the ship as the Canberra team continued to bomb away from international waters.

The final minutes were largely junk time as Chalmers emptied the bench, allowing young Bandits Macgregor Cameron, Jacob Cincurak and Josh McKay some extended minutes.