A late scoring surge by the St Andrews men’s basketball first team saw them claim a 65-57 victory over Robert Gordon University in a game in which they spent large parts of the contest trailing by a big margin only to turn the tide in the closing minutes in thrilling fashion, ensuring that their 2017-18 Scottish 2A Division campaign got off to the best possible start.
With the match beginning at 5 pm in the Sports Centre, RGU could potentially have been forgiven for a somewhat shaky start perhaps owing to their lengthily bus journey down from Aberdeen as the Saints dominated the cagey opening stages of the first quarter in which both sides found points hard to come by. The Saints did enjoy much of the territory and possession to begin with, but had multiple shots denied by the rim while they were also hampered by some impressive three-point shots by RGU on offence as well as some lightning quick counter attacks by the visiting side. Coming off the first timeout of the quarter, it was obvious that RGU had shaken off any potential rustiness they could have collectively harboured to begin with as they grew into the game well, capitalising on a series of errors within the ranks of the hosts to grow their lead and counterbalance the earlier free throws picked up by St Andrews. The frustration of the home team amongst both coaches and players alike was clear to see as RGU ended the first quarter with a commanding 24-12 lead.
The second period of 10 minutes began in a much similar vein to the first, with the Saints unable to make their territory and possession count while RGU improved on their impressive first-half conversion rate from the three-point line while also taking advantage of numerous free throws afforded to them due to ill-discipline within the ranks of the home team. In contrast, St Andrews’ shooting continued to be wayward, and the fact that they could muster just a solitary three-point shot throughout the whole first half would have been a point of much frustration for the team. They also developed a worrying tendency to squander free throw opportunities afforded to them by foul play from RGU, although a solid defensive performance ensured they were able to keep the men from Aberdeen in touch. However, The Saints did enjoy their best period of the developing contest in the latter stages of the second quarter playing with a much improved tempo and intensity, although this was negated somewhat by some dubious fouls called by the referees against the hosts’ defence. At the halftime buzzer though, RGU’s lead had been cut to eight, with the score at 33-25.
Despite finishing the second quarter arguably the weaker of the two sides, RGU were quickest out of the blocks in the third, enjoying much of the possession but, once again, it was an impressive defensive showing that kept St Andrews in the hunt. The hosts’ offensive game was now warming nicely as well, and a pair of three-pointers on consecutive attacks by the Saints saw RGU’s lead cut to six as the third quarter reached the halfway mark. It was clear to see the hosts growing in confidence, although the game then entered a somewhat scrappy period with both sides relinquishing free throw opportunities and other scoring chances became rarer, potentially as a result of growing nerves on both sides. The benches of both sides also became much more vocal, perhaps sensing that the game was now entering a key period. This tense back-and-forth continued between both sides until the conclusion of the quarter as RGU’s shooting accuracy, which had been the key difference between both sides in the first half, began to desert them. When the buzzer sounded for the end of the quarter, RGU were nursing a fragile 46-41 advantage. The game was now set up for a grandstand finish, and it certainly lived up to its billing.
Robert Gordon began the final chapter of this contest with six unanswered points in a start that contained precious few scoring opportunities as both defences impressed. The Saints were rewarded eventually for their all-round improved performance in the second half, as they began to make an impression on the scoreboard again, although a combination of costly fouls by the home team and some talented offensive play from RGU ensured that the visitors maintained their lead heading into the final five minutes. The game then entered its pivotal stage: down 57-51 with two minutes to play, few could have envisaged the hosts salvaging anything from the contest. However the Saints embarked on a thrilling sequence of play, racking up seven unanswered points to edge ahead for the first time since the opening quarter at 58-57 with just over a minute to play, much to the delight of the partisan home crowd. Ultimately, RGU were never able to recover from this as St Andrews held their nerve in the closing seconds, adding another seven points while shutting down RGU’s offence to complete a memorable comeback victory 65-57.
The elation on the faces of the Saints players was clear to see following the final buzzer, as they erupted into mass celebration amongst themselves and also with members of the crowd, savouring a result that had seemed scarcely believable just a couple of minutes earlier, whilst RGU seemed to struggle to come to terms with a result that might have appeared harsh on them, considering how they spent large portions of the game in the driving seat. St Andrews will look to build on this impressive comeback in their next game in a fortnight, when they travel to Dundee to take on Abertay firsts.