Sam Elliott reviews NTU’s Friday night varsity men’s basketball victory

Photo by Vicoria Colquhoun-Postill
Photo by Vicoria Colquhoun-Postill

A fantastic sporting encounter between Trent and UoN men’s basketball teams took place on Friday night, with the lads in pink securing the victory and leveling the varsity series following the first day. Platform’s Sam Elliott was there and gave his verdict on the tight victory for Trent

Nottingham Trent levelled the varsity series against fierce rivals the University of Nottingham to one point apiece after a pulsating and dramatic 76-74 victory for the NTU men’s basketball 1st team. In a game which had huge drama throughout, including multiple lead changes in the final quarter, Trent eventually prevailed on the back of huge performances from Centre Izaak Williams, and point guard Josh Monk, who blessed us with talent, tenacity and touches of class throughout.

Trent managed to banish memories of last year’s 82-56 humbling that they suffered at the hands of UoN, and put the Pink Army in a strong position to take home the varsity trophy for the first time in 6 years after pulling off an unlikely victory.

The final quarter in particular will live long in my memory; with 2 and a half minutes to go Trent were behind by 4 points, but after a 46 second explosion of action swung the momentum and the contest in their favour.

This game was everything varsity is about; passion for your university, bringing people together and above all, putting everything on the line to secure the victory for your team, and everyone inside the Motorpoint Arena last night witnessed a truly epic varsity encounter.

The national anthem was belted out with vociferous pride, on the eve of St George’s day, from players and fans alike prior to the tip off. The opening tip was secured by UoN and a truly remarkable basketball contest was underway.

In an intense atmosphere, both teams struggled to get into their normal patterns of play, and turnovers were a plenty in a very even first quarter. UoN nailed a couple of 3 point baskets to take an early 14-10 lead but the Trent defence was incredibly active and forced errors from the UoN team later in the quarter. Some fine ball-handling skills were on show from Trent’s starting point guard, Tomas Krivonosovas, who sparked a 12-4 run to end the period.

A staggering full court pass and an effortless behind the back assist capped a fine start to the game for Krivonosovas and along with Izaak Williams 6 points and Josh Monk’s 7, Trent led 22-18 at the end of the first quarter.

Trent’s bench began the second quarter, but they started sluggishly turning the ball over on multiple occasions, the turnovers consequently led to fast breaks for UoN who capitalised and retook the lead 29-28 midway through the quarter.

After the starters were reinserted into the game, Krivonosovas’ phenomenal ball-handling and dribbling abilities nullified the increased defensive intensity from UoN, leading to one beautifully constructed basket in particular for Jeevan Grewal to finish resoundingly.

Trent led 33-31 with 3 minutes left in the half and UoN were struggling to counter the stingy rear-guard that Grewal and Williams were erecting on the interior. However, UoN responded with three 3 pointers to reclaim the lead, their 4th, 5th and 6th of the half, compared to Trent’s solitary bucket from downtown. After a breathless 20 minutes of action, Trent were unlucky to go into the locker room trailing 40-38.

The packed stadium was then treated to both Universities’ cheerleaders, who performed routines during the half time interval. Both acts were exuberant and incredibly well choreographed and seemed to be the perfect tonic before the second half drama.

The third quarter was incredibly physical, with the referee’s seemingly blowing their whistles increasingly more regularly; one official in particular whistled and indicated what the foul was for with such flamboyance and gusto that his actions were entertaining in their own way.

Josh Monk, who is renowned all over Nottingham as a sharpshooting sniper from range, showed his prowess off the dribble tonight, using crossovers and quick movements when defenders closed him down on the perimeter and scored a number of buckets from close range, particularly in the 3rd quarter.

Trent’s rhythm was thrown off as a result of UoN enforcing a full court press to try and nullify Krivonosovas’ wizardry with the ball in hand, and the offence staggered as a result. A slick passing move which cut through the press effortlessly ended the 3rd quarter scoring, but Trent still found themselves down by 3; with UoN leading 52-49.

A final 10 minutes of high intensity, effort and passion was left to be played at the Motorpoint Arena, and an engrossed crowd summoned their strength to chant, cheer and gasp throughout a climax few could have predicted.

After Trent took a 56-54 lead after a fine give and go play between Williams and Ryan Stewart, UoN stormed back and rode a 12-2 run to seemingly crush any chance of a Trent victory.

Trent lost their poise in this period, with passes being dropped, rebounds lost and this left many heads hanging as a timeout was called by the coach. With 4 minutes left Trent were down 58-66 after a corner 3 pointer had sent the UoN crowd into delirium and left the Trent supporters scratching their heads as to how this had slipped away so quickly.

Within 2 minutes, these emotions had drifted from one side of the arena to the other, after a staggering 11-1 run from Trent seized the contest back in their favour. After Monk again confidently drove to the basket with all his might, and then hoisted the most beautiful 3 point shot from the left corner, his favourite spot, on back to back possessions, Williams came up with a steal off the UoN inbounds pass and eventually put back a miss into the basket to give Trent a scarcely believable 70-67 lead.

The celebrations on the Trent bench and from the crowd makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I type about them nearly 10 hours later such was the deafening nature of the outburst of noise. But the drama was yet to be concluded as UoN managed to tie the game at 70-70, and then again at 72-72 with 30 seconds left on the clock.

Enter Josh Monk, whose 4th quarter play made me question whether the memory of last year’s humbling kept him up awake at night in cold sweats.

The point guard was the driving force behind some inspiring play in the final moments in this year’s thrilling encounter. After nailing a 16 footer to put Trent back up 74-72, he then held his nerve to make 2 free throws to put Trent 3 ahead at 76-73. Grewal then missed two free throws to give UoN a chance to tie the game with the final shot, but it was fantastically contested by Krivonosovas and missed badly, bringing a thrilling game of basketball to a close.

Everyone played their part on the Trent team, with Krivonosovas claiming 9 assists in the game and Grewal scoring 15 points, but in the biggest game of the season, Trent’s two most influential players rose to the occasion. Williams, who finished with 25 points and 8 rebounds, and Monk, who finished with 22 points and 2 steals, scored Trent’s last 13 points and wrestled the game away from UoN and set the 2016 Varsity series alight.

 

Sam Elliott

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