The men’s basketball Blues fell to an overtime defeat in their final regular-season game last week after a strong performance against London South Bank University. The result was perhaps unfair on the Oxford side, who came back from trailing 45-57 mid-way through the third quarter to force a 71-71 tie at the end of the fourth. South Bank, the league leaders, showed their resolve in overtime and, in the face of a vociferous Iffley Road crowd, pulled away to record an 84-76 victory.
“We’re trying to take away the positives from the game”, said captain Shaan Dalwadi after having recovered from a physically and mentally taxing evening. “It shows how much we’ve improved this season, having been destroyed by South Bank away at the start.” Back in November, the Blues lost 78-60 in south London, but have bounced back strongly and end their league campaign with a creditable five wins and five losses.
Looking for a third consecutive victory, Oxford had every reason to be optimistic before tip-off, especially as both of South Bank’s two previous losses had come on the road. Their confidence was apparent in a manic first quarter, which the Blues edged 19-18, with 11 points from Alberto Gerones. With pleas for calm coming from the Oxford bench, the second quarter was more cagey, and a South Bank three-pointer with the final shot of the half gave the visitors a 34-31 lead at the half-way point.
Last season’s captain Karolis Bauza encouraged the team to be more confident with the ball in the second half, and Bauza, the Blues’ overall top scorer with 23 points, led by example, setting up Dalwadi for a magical lay-up and then shooting for three. Dalwadi showed fine defensive blocking skills, agility on the rebound, and capped his performance with a spectacular slam-dunk for two of his 20 points.
However, Oxford lost some impetus after an enforced time out caused by a malfunctioning electronic scoreboard. Gerones in particular struggled to contain his emotions and had to be prevented by his teammates from lashing out at the Basque official after a number of contentious decisions. Trailing by 11 points going into the final quarter, an Oxford comeback was improbable, and the game looked over when Bauza uncharacteristically missed two free throws with the score at 59-64 with two and a half minutes left to play.
The Blues knew better than to give in, though, and Dalwadi levelled the scores at 67-67 heading into the last minute. After trading baskets, South Bank took a 71-69 lead with 13 seconds on the clock, but Kyle Burton appeared from nowhere to score and take the game into overtime.
Ultimately South Bank proved that they are good value for the league title with a dominant late performance. “It was really disappointing to lose in overtime, especially as we had the momentum going into it,” commented Dalwadi. The prestige of the opposition, who share facilities with the Brixton TopCats, the club where recently-selected NBA All-Star Luol Deng grew up, wasn’t lost on Dalwadi, who added, “Taking the top team in Premier South into overtime is a good sign for our upcoming BUCS last 16 fixture. And if we play like that we should have no problem.”
A fourth-placed league finish has ensured Oxford a BUCS championship draw against a lower seed, and Dalwadi and the squad are focused on cup success and a victory in next month’s Varsity match in Cambridge. Demonstrating the Blues’ seriousness in their desire to shoe the Tabs, Dalwadi plans to implement a pre-Varsity drinking ban, so anybody thinking of inviting the basketball team on a crew date before then might want to reconsider their plans.