Late lead ‘slipped away’

ALBURY-Wodonga Bandits forward Alex Opacic says the Border outfit is hurting deeply after an agonising 81-79 road defeat to the Canberra Gunners on Saturday night.

The Bandits looked to be headed to overtime at the Belconnen Basketball Stadium when Nick Payne tied the scores at 79-79 with 12 seconds left.

But Gunners guard Daniel Joyce nailed a shot in the lane with four seconds on the clock and then Jamie Mesman blocked Payne’s buzzer-beating three-point attempt to hand the hosts the 10th win of their SEABL campaign.

“Yeah, a bit heartbreaking,” Opacic said.

“We had a late lead and then it slipped away.

“Late turnovers, we couldn’t score and then (Canberra import) Garlon Green was just too good.

“He’d get in the lane and once he gets that close to the basket he’s not going to be stopped.

“It’s just frustrating because we had such a good week at practice.

“We really wanted this one and it hurts that we didn’t get the win.”

In a game that never met any real offensive highs, Canberra led by as many as nine points in the first half before a 19-12 third period gave the Bandits a 64-61 lead with one quarter to play.

Albury-Wodonga still led 75-72 late in the game but struggled to stop Gunners star import Garlon Green, who scored five of his game-high 26 points in the final two minutes of play.

Joyce added 16 points and Mesman chimed in with 11 points and four blocked shots.

For the Bandits, Opacic top-scored with 18 points and 12 rebounds as all five of Albury-Wodonga’s starters notched double-digit point totals.

Payne added a tidy double-double of 14 points and 10 boards, but imports Lamar Mallory (10 points) and Deuce Briscoe (12 points) were both well held below their season averages.

Opacic acknowledged the past month had been a prime example of the Bandits’ frustrations, after having a season-high three-game winning streak, the Border club has now lost four straight.

“We just haven’t clicked for any extended length of time,” Opacic said.

“We got on a bit of a roll, then it’s been the story of our season, we have all this inconsistent play — and I count myself in that, I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone.

“But our cohesion against Canberra was really good.

“Ball movement was much better than it had been the past three games, when it just seemed to disappear.”

Opacic said the Bandits would have to lift for next week’s home finale against Nunawading, a game that is Payne’s 400th SEABL contest and in all likelihood, his last.

“We really need to win next week, if only for Nick,” Opacic said.

“It will be tough, they’re one of the best teams in the league.”