Rangers pull away from ‘Frankston RSL’ Blue Men
Dandenong made it two wins on ANZAC Day eve as the Rangers pulled away from the Frankston RSL Blues in the second half to register an 85-74 NBL1 round 4 win.
Despite holding a four point advantage at half time, the Blues depth was tested by a young and talented Rangers roster brimming with junior Australian national team talent. Dandenong, who rotated through their bench all night, eventually pulled away after the main break to hold on for the 11 point victory despite the Blues exhibiting the ANZAC spirit and fighting all the way to the end.
In front of a boisterous full house at Frankston Basketball Stadium, the scene was set for a high-octane game following a stirring rendition of The Last Post delivered by Frankston RSL’s Kevin Hillier, including a minute’s silence. But from that point forward, the stadium was anything but quiet on a fun-filled evening of quality basketball.
High-flying import Najeal Young delivered his best performance to date, pouring in a team-high 22 points with 5 rebounds and 4 steals as he also took on the job of guarding 7-foot rising star Sam Froling who finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds for the visitors. While Young was well supported by Igor Hadziomerovic 16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, the only other Blues player to score in double figures was Damon Bozeman who added 13 points albeit on 4-12 shooting.
Dandenong were paced by Australian Under-19 national team forward Keli Leaupepe who quietly carved out a game-high 25 points on a highly-efficient 10-12 shooting alongside 9 rebounds in a dominant performance. Together with veteran guard Lucas Barker (17 points), they guided the Rangers to an important victory over their rivals on one of the biggest dates on the NBL1 calendar.
It was the Blues who opened the game in a hurry, with Bozeman exploding with three consecutive three-pointers to have the crowd at his mercy. The Rangers however returned fire, with big man Tim Lang draining a triple and two other baskets of his own to keep Dandenong in touch. Hadziomerovic found the bottom of the net from distance to have the Blues up by 6 points. After the fast start, the scoring dried up for both teams, with the Rangers scoring the next three points all from the charity stripe. William Peirce’s late bucket was matched by Lang’s turnaround jumper over Majok Majok, closing the margin to just 3 points at the first change.
Young opened the second with a traditional three-point play, but scores by Matt Kenyon and Froling kept pace with the Blues. Bozeman came up with a big steal that set up Lachlan Barker for the breakaway dunk to once again set the crowd alight. As the game wore on, Young increasingly started to find his rhythm, showing off a nice stroke from long range. Leaupepe and Tyler Robertson continued to respond for the Rangers who kept chipping away, but triples to Hadziomerovic and Alistair Macdonald were enough to maintain the Blues lead at 4 at half time much to the delight of the home fans.
The Rangers opened the second half with Barker scoring on a tough layup as they continued to place the Blues under pressure. Rising to the occasion, Young continued to provide scoring for the Blues, including a steal and fast break slam to maintain their slender lead. Yet Dandenong would go on a 10-0 run to steal a 6 point advantage before Hadziomerovic scored inside off a lovely feed by Majok. Robertson hit back with a corner three, and while Peirce hit one of his own at the other end which was soon after followed by another Young jumper, Froling closed out the term with back-to-back buckets to have Dandenong ahead by 5.
Young continued to fire for the Blues, the Rangers appeared to have all the answers. Hadziomerovic converted a three-point play to get his side back to within 5, but that would be as close as the Blues would get for the remainder of the game. Leaupepe and Barker did most of the damage down the stretch, ensuring the Rangers collected their third win of the season, leaving the Blues with a 1-4 record.
While the Blues shot a very good 42% from beyond the arc compared to Dandenong’s 26%, the Rangers hit 60% from inside which included more than half their points total.
The Blues will have to back up on Saturday night against a very good Nunawading Spectres outfit at The Graveyard, with a road win ensuring their season remains on track with Dan Trist yet to join the team. Dandenong returns home to host the Melbourne Tigers the same day as their look to register a fourth win of the season.