A gutsy Newcastle Hunters upset the Maitland Mustangs 85-79 to retain the Kibble Mallon Cup in front of a huge crowd at Maitland Federation Centre.
The Hunters led by Dane Suttle, Jacob Foy and captain Ben Hawkesley were able to keep the Mustangs at bay after establishing a six-point break going into the final term.
The Mustangs, encouraged by a parochial home crowd, were unable to reduce the lead in a frantic last quarter and paid the price for inaccurate shooting and too many fouls.
“I think the thing that hurts most for our guys is that if we had have won we were looking at a home semi-final as North Sydney lost last night and we’ve got the tiebreaker on those guys,” Mustangs coach Luke Doyle said.
“They brought a lot of energy to the game and we didn’t match it.
“We were always the top team, but they put us on the back foot and we just expected something to happen.
“When we play the better teams we are attacking and on the front foot.
“It seems when we come in against those lower teams we don’t bring as much energy.”
Maitland dominated most of the statistics on the night, but in the two that counted most they got hammered.
The Mustangs gave away 30 fouls to the Hunters 18, sending Newcastle to the free-throw line 19 more times.
Despite dominating rebounds, steals, block shots, turn overs and taking 40 more shots, shooting accuracy was the other killer.
Maitland shot at just 32 per cent, compared with Newcastle’s 45 per cent and 60 per cent, or six from 10, from three-shot range.
The Mustangs managed just three of 14 long-range shots.
“When you shoot at 30 per cent and the opposition is shooting at 50 per cent you’re going to struggle,” Mustangs coach Luke Boyle said.
“But the biggest problem was falling back into old bad habits, too much foul trouble.
“They went to the free-throw line 40 times, which is just phenomenal. The last few games teams have only being going 16 to 20.
“We picked up our defensive intensity too late. We wanted some upper-court defence and the guards didn’t really give us enough of that to be honest.
“We let Jakob Dorricott hurt us when he came into the game. We pushed on him too far and we let him get on the fast break. Instead of trying to get in front we just tried to bump him and were fouled.
“Those type of fouls put you in a bad situation as the game continues.
“They might not result in two free-throws now but it puts you in foul trouble so when the next guy gets fouled they’re off to the free-throw line.”
Boyle said the foul discrepancy was not the referees’ fault.
“I don’t think we attacked well enough and I don’t think we picked up the defence well enough.
“The refs didn’t have a bearing on that game whatsoever.
“It was just our own lack of effort in the start, the first five really let us down in the start.
“When you look at the percentage, the points for and against that really did let us down that poor start.
“We were happy to trade baskets, we weren’t fighting hard enough.”
Boyle said the one positive might be that the performance would provide his team with a reality check before the play-offs.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get the cup, but it’s a good reality check for us on areas in which we need to improve.”
The Mustangs host Sutherland Sharks this Saturday.