The power of the Irish front line of Dave Neal and Kevin Foley was simply too much for an undersized Scottish team at Riccarton this afternoon. The duo combined for 67 points and 27 rebounds, upstaging the returning Paul Cummins, back to represent Northern Ireland after his season at the University of Edinburgh last year, who scored 11 points.
The Irish came out flying, and built a lead of 8-0 at the start of the game, forcing Scottish Coach Iain MacLean into a time-out, with some stern words for his players. The break certainly had the desired impact, as the Scots picked up their game immediately, coming back to achieve a first quarter score of 15-23, and drawing the second quarter 21-21, for a half-time score of 36-44 in favour of the visitors. The first two quarters had seen Foley and Neal score as many points as the entire Scottish team, who were led at the half-way stage by Daniel Donnelly and Ugnius Zasimauskius with 9, and Neil Fraser and Garreth Lodge with 7 and 6 points respectively. Neal had out-shot the Scots from long-range in the first half, knocking down three of his six attempts, compared to two of ten from the Scots.
The Irish took the third quarter by a point, with Neal adding a further twelve points to his tally, while his running mate, Foley contributed six points in the quarter. Lodge and Fraser did their best to respond for the Scots, coming up with thirteen points between them in the quarter, with Cummins, content to leave the scoring to the big guys, registering only three points in the third quarter. The Scots had no answer for Foley and Neal, who scored from the inside and the outside with ruthless efficiency. While the home team were now matching the Irish basket for basket, their poor start meant that the Ulstermen headed into the deciding quarter with a lead of nine points.
With memories of a famous comeback win against England, which clinched the Home Nations, in the same gym, back in 2006 fresh in the memories of most in attendance, the stage was set for another courageous performance from the home side. Unfortunately, no one told Kevin Foley about this, and the Irishman slotted away eleven points in the fourth quarter to extinguish any hopes of a Scottish revival. A disappointing start to the tournament for the Scottish men, but a promising performance from the Irish, who will be hoping to ride the Foley-Neal juggernaut all the way to a Home Nations victory. Their biggest test comes on Wednesday, at the same venue, with a 12:30 tip-off.
Players of the game
Scotland: Neil Fraser’s 16 points were a solid contribution from the former GB U20 cap, while Garreth Lodge’s 13 points, in limited minutes, were also a good offering. Daniel Donnelly battled hard with Foley and Neal, eventually fouling out of the game, but racking up 11 points and 7 rebounds, to go with 2 blocks, before doing so.
Northern Ireland: Dave Neal: 34 points (5/10 3ptrs), 15 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Kevin Foley: 33 points (7/10 FG, 13/16 FT), 12 rebounds. Pretty impressive! These two were the difference between the sides today.