Believe the Hype! Grand Final rematch lives up to billing as Malik Meunier seals game in final second
For the briefest of moments, Activewest Stadium went silent as the more than 1000-strong crowd held their breath as they watched Malik Meunier’s second free throw in an instant classic on Saturday night.
But the crowd needn’t have worried as Meunier had ice in his veins to sink the shot with 0.4 seconds remaining and allow the crowd to erupt in a moment of pure ecstasy.
It was the perfect climax to an enthralling match that saw both teams have chances to seal the game late but it was the Buccs who gained some revenge for last year’s grand final taking the win 92-91.
The win was made more impressive by the fact the Buccs were without Zac Gattorna who was given leave to go over East for NBL tryouts.
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Buccs coach Dayle Joseph was impressed with his side’s ability to dig deep after they found themselves in a bit of a hole trailing by 14 points early in the fourth quarter.
“The style of game was great, high scoring it was a bit of a grind, it was tough, it was hard and pretty physical at times,” he said.
“The boys went flat out to come back after being down and those are the sort of games you need to win if we want to go all the way this season.”
It was the first meeting between the two teams since last year’s Grand Final where Rockingham produced a huge fourth quarter to claim a first championship.
The Flames started out better opening a seven-point lead inside the first quarter before threes from Johny Narkle and Liam Hunt closed the gap but Rockingham would edge the quarter to take a five-point lead.
They stretched the lead again to start the second and the Buccs responded through Meunier and Fletcher Klasztorny as they managed to steal the lead.
Devondrick Walker was the Buccs tormentor in the final last year but here it was Jeremy Combs doing the damage making three straight baskets polished off with a Walker three to have the Flames lead by three at the half.
It was back and forth in the third before ghosts of last years grand final began appearing. The Buccs could not find the basket as they went scoreless for more than four minutes as the Flames got the lead out to 10 points.
When Combs sunk another three early in the fourth the lead was out to a game-high 14 points with the Flames looking in control but the Buccs managed to find another gear.
Meunier started the fightback hitting a three-pointer before Shaun Stewart got aggressive and made some tough finishes. Rockingham was still up five but then buckets to Liam Hunt and Stewart made it a one-point game, and the building was rocking.
With 27 seconds left, Callum Beard’s jump shot put the Flames up by one and they had the ball in hand after Marshall Nelson grabbed a defensive rebound.
The Buccs were forced to make repeated fouls to send Nelson to the line with eight seconds on the clock where he missed both shots to leave the door open for the Buccs.
Hunt grabbed the round and passed it off to Meunier who charged down the court and with 0.4 seconds was tripped up sending him to the line where he made no mistake.
“I was a bit nervous I was just happy they went in,” Meunier said post-game.
“I just went in and just made sure I shot it properly and did everything that I’ve been practising . . . . with the grand final rematch we really wanted this one and we’re just happy we could come back and get it done.”
Meunier finished with 19 points five assists and four rebounds but Liam Hunt had another huge game producing 26 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
The loss sees the Flames drop from first for the first time this season while the Buccs solidify their spot in third.
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