An influential 15 seconds of basketball from Solent wing Tayo Oyefusi helped the Kestrels to win the National Trophy, triumphing 88-74.
After leading by double digits for the majority of the game, Solent’s lead began to slip as Northumbria searched for a way back into the game in the 2nd half. With just 7 points between the teams, Oyefusi dropped a couple of free throws, drained a three whilst being fouled, made the and-1 shot and then produced a huge block on Northumbria’s Malcolm Smith. The passage halted any momentum the North East side had built and swung the contest back in Solent’s favour.
MVP honours went to Kestrels’ guard Herman Senor II for his impressive performance. With 26 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists and a steal, he was a worthy winner and made the difference throughout.
Keen to avenge their loss to the same opponent on this court in last year’s National Cup Final, Solent raced out to a fast 11-0 lead as Northumbria went 0-5 from the field. That had Coach Steutel calling an early time out for the North East side but it did little to stem the flow of points. 11-0 became 15-0 before Blayne Freckleton converted from range to get Northumbria on the board. The slow start meant Solent were up big after 1 with the score at 28-11.
If Northumbria were hoping to start with a clean slate in the 2nd period, Solent had other ideas. Going for the knockout blow early, Jake Eynon connected from downtown before Senor dropped a pair of triples and the quick-fire points meant the Solent lead had passed the 25-point mark in the blink of an eye. Oyefusi’s presence inside meant that clean looks in the paint were hard to come by for Northumbria, that left Freckleton to be the main source of offence from range. A 14-2 run for Coach Steutel’s side midway through the quarter did help reduce the deficit, but Northumbria were still in a hole by half time, trailing 48-30.
Needing to keep their momentum going, TN did just that as a 13-2 streak to begin the 3rd quarter meant it was game on. Solent’s Joe Tagarelli had an off day by his high standards, but he stood tall in the 3rd to end the Northumbria charge and re-establish the Kestrels lead at 9. Eynon dropped a 3 late in proceeding and Senor II continued to excel, making big baskets at key moments to halt his opponents whenever they looked to threaten. Still, Northumbria were in the game heading into the final frame, trailing by single digits at 63-54.
An inability to get stops early in the quarter slowed Northumbria’s efforts to pull level, but they found a breakthrough as Freckleton nailed back to back 3’s to drop the difference to 7 and force a Solent time out with 5 minutes left. With all the momentum firmly on Northumbria’s side, Oyefusi extinguished it and more with his heroics, allowing his side to pull away for good and take the National Trophy.
“That was a total team effort, a good start and from there we maintained,” said Herm Senor II. “We knew they were a good team and they’d make a run, they’re a 3rd quarter team but for the most part we stayed in control. We’re playing really good basketball and to get this title is great motivation to go and get the rest of the things we can win this season.”
Solent Head Coach Matt Guymon, “We started a number of years ago, coming through the leagues, D3, D2, now D1 and to be able to win some silverware in this league is an unbelievable feeling. It was a perfect start, but Northumbria were always going to come back into the game. I’m proud of my guys for weathering the storm and getting over the line in the 4th quarter. Tayo is the ultimate glue guy for our team. He doesn’t care about the box score, he wants to win, and he’s always on his defensive assignment, both Herm and Tayo were great today.”
Team Northumbria Coach Marc Steutel, “Credit to Solent, I thought they were exceptional, and deserving winners. As much as we’re hurting right now, credit to Coach Guymon and their guys. We didn’t start well and put ourselves in a hole, we weren’t sharp in our execution. I’m proud of our fight though, I one hundred percent had faith we’d get back into the game by focussing on small sections. Whatever we did though, they had a back breaker play that just took it away again. Credit to Herm Senor as well, that’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a National Final. Not only did he facilitate, he shot well, he guarded, he did it all.”