THE Newcastle Hunters only have themselves to blame for a painful 94-93 loss to North Sydney at Broadmeadow on Saturday night, which allowed the Bears to join them at the top of the Waratah Basketball League ladder.
Norths guard Tom Wright nailed a three-pointer from the top of the arc as the buzzer sounded, snapping Newcastle’s seven-match winning streak and silencing the crowd who had watched their team control the game and the scoreboard for much of the night.
The Hunters led 86-75 with less than five minutes left but unravelled under pressure, committing four turnovers and making just five of 10 free throws to keep the Bears in the hunt.
Guard John Martin connected with the second of two free throws with less than six seconds to go, extending Newcastle’s lead to 93-91, but Norths hustled the ball up the floor from the baseline in-bound and Wright was left open to launch his bomb.
The Hunters out-rebounded the much bigger Bears 47-27 and had 18 assists to Norths’ eight but committed 20 turnovers to Norths’ 17 and paid dearly for their five-of-14 free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter and 23 of 39 (59 per cent) overall.
Norths converted 24 of 36 (67 per cent) from the line and outgunned the Hunters from the floor, making 32 shots from 55 attempts (58 per cent) to Newcastle’s 31 of 74 (42 per cent).
‘‘We’ve said it all season, how we’ve kept teams in games and kept the door ajar after getting our noses in front, and this time it’s come back to bite us,’’ Hunters coach Darren Nichols said.
‘‘We missed some crucial foul shots, made silly turnovers when the pressure was on, and our execution was poor when we needed to show more composure.
‘‘We beat them everywhere but the scoreboard.’’
Nichols said the Hunters missed the cool head of skipper Josh Morgan, who was in Albury to pay tribute to former Hunter Pirates teammate Allen McCowan.
Aged 42, McCowan died of a heart attack 11 days ago and his funeral will be held today.
Forward Nathan Wilson led Newcastle’s scoring effort with 24 points, and guards Deion Sims and Adam Stanger added 22 points and five assists each.
As well as ending Newcastle’s regular-season home winning streak at 20, the Bears joined the Hunters with a 10-2 win-loss record and a share of top spot.
Third-placed Maitland Mustangs (8-4) blew a chance to move within a game of Newcastle and Norths when they fell 78-70 to fifth-placed Central Coast Crusaders (7-6) at Maitland Federation Centre on Saturday night.
Newcastle (4-5) notched a rare win without leading scorer Katie Ebzery, hanging on to beat Norths (2-8) 76-72 in the WBL women’s game at Broadmeadow on Saturday.
Charlotte Bull (20 points, 12 rebounds) was Newcastle’s top scorer, supported by Ilanah Forrest (13 points), Susi Walmsley (12) and Cheryl Wills (11).
Ebzery, who leads the WBL in scoring with 23.3 points a game, is in China with the Emerging Opals, but Hunters coach Paul Lyth was pleased with the way his team pulled together without her.