John Ireland conceded to a sense of relief after the Tamworth Thunderbolts survived a late surge from Lithgow on Saturday night to book a spot in the State League final four.
Up 92-84 with 1.04 minutes on the clock, the Thunderbolts looked headed for victory but the Lazers went on a seven point run to fight back to within a point with 11 seconds remaining.
Urged on by the Thunderbolts faithful, the home side dug in to hold on for a 92-91 win and set up a semi-final match-up with a St George side that gave them “a bit of a dust up” only three weeks ago, in Sydney on Saturday.
“We probably got away with it in the end,” the Bolts’ mentor said.
“We probably made a couple of poor decisions and invited them back into the game.”
The Thunderbolts were rarely behind and led by as much as 13 points late in the second quarter but were unable to shake the Lazers off with only a point separating the two sides at the first two breaks, and four at three-quarter time.
“It was a bit of a game of runs. We broke away a bit in the second quarter but then made some big shots on the back of Jaidyn Goodwin and their import – Terrence Durham,” Ireland said.
Goodwin was hot from the three point line shooting 11 for the game, a lot of them, albeit contested.
Ireland was though overall “really happy” after a tough few weeks on the road.
“The guys have worked hard and deserve to be in that final four,” he said.
They will welcome back Rhys Chillingworth from suspension for the finals series.
“I know he was gutted not to be able to help the boys, but we now have the opportunity to get him back on the floor,” he said.
They have though lost Scott McGann, who was their top-scorer with 17 points. He flies back out to the US on Wednesday.
The scoring load was shared with Rashanti Harris (15), Chris Skilton (14), Matt Monckton (12) and Abe Dwyer-Westhorpe (11) also scoring in double figures in what was a much cleaner offensive performance.
“We shared the ball a lot better and our execution on offence was much better,” Ireland said.
“The biggest thing was ball security.”
“The last month we’ve been averaging 25-30 turnovers a game. Last night we had 14.”
“That gave us extra possession and gave us the ability to have the ball in our hands more.”