BASKETBALL: CWA Fury’s play-off odyssey ended at the final hurdle as their National League Division Four promotion dream was dashed.
Hot favourites Oxford Brookes University clinched an 89-84 victory at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on Saturday.
Despite the defeat, Fury and their enthusiastic fan base won many new friends and admirers with a performance full of grit and determination.
They could easily have folded when Oxford surged into a
40-22 lead midway through the second quarter but Fury hit back well and were just two points adrift with 30 seconds to go.
The game started well for Fury with captain Richard Milbourne, returning after missing the semi-final, creating two baskets for Eivydas Aleksa as Fury edged into a 9-7 lead.
A run of 13 unanswered points put Oxford clear but Fury managed to get going again when Aleksa connected on a triple and Giedrius Pakalniskis hit five consecutive points to enable Fury to hold the deficit to single figures as the quarter ended 29-20 in Oxford’s favour.
Oxford showed their class as they built a large lead, with Fury struggling to cope defensively as Oxford dominated the paint and created easy scores from a succession of turn-overs.
Finally, Fury regained some composure and with Aleksa driving well and Deividas Butkevicius finding space inside they began to eat into the Oxford lead. Fury reached the interval having cut the deficit to 54-44.
Fury enjoyed a run of eight unanswered points to get right back into the contest and by the midpoint had consolidated their run at 60-58 but were unable to edge ahead. Towards the end of the quarter, Tomas Liberis scored on a driving play and followed that with a triple to keep Fury in touch as Oxford ended the third with a lead of 74-69.
Milbourne stroked home a corner triple and Mindaugas Spukas and Aleksa both hit from beyond the arc to close the gap to 86-84 with 30 seconds to go and Fury had momentum.
Milbourne crashed through the advertising hoardings, suffering from cramp, and had to be led from the floor in his final appearance for Fury.
This delayed the game and, while not a clincher, certainly halted Fury’s progress as Oxford closed out the game from the line with Fury running out of time.
Throughout the game, Fury never really found an answer to the scoring threat of Most Valuable Player award winner Akim Sylla, who ended the game with a game high 37 points on 73 per cent shooting, added to which he grabbed 11 rebounds, five steals and three assists to fill the stats chart.
Aleksa hit 31 points for Fury, on 12 from 21 shooting.
Twenty-one of those points came in the first half when his effort was vital in keeping Fury in contention.
After the break, Fury had a more balanced attack. Butkevicius ended with a double, double of 14 points and 10 boards, Pakalniskis added 13 and Liberis 12.
It was little compensation that Fury got as close to Oxford as any other side has all season.
No-one had expected Fury to get to this stage of the competition and when they reflect on their campaign the players and fans can realise what a fantastic achievement it was to finish second of 49 teams in National League Four.