As the AFL ums and ahs about a professional team in Tasmania for the umpteenth time, all they have to do is look down…
The fairytale debut season for Tasmania JackJumpers will continue after the first-year franchise qualified for the NBL grand final after stunning defending champions Melbourne United 76-73 in the deciding game of their best-of-three semi-final series.
Thanks to a dynamic performance from American import Josh Adams, the upstart JackJumpers held their nerve in the final minutes of Monday’s clash at John Cain Arena to set up a grand final showdown with Sydney Kings.
Adams led all scorers with 30 points and Jack McVeigh added 16 to help the JackJumpers become just the second Tasmanian team to play off for the championship following Launceston Casino City’s title run in 1981.
United were dealt a major blow prior to the match when inspirational leader Chris Goulding picked up a calf injury during warmups, forcing the 381-game veteran out of the crucial decider.
United felt Goulding’s absence as they shot just 6-of-29 from long range without their best three-point marksman while 10 missed free throws also contributed to Melbourne’s downfall.
Shea Ili (18 points) and Jo Lual-Acuil (16) kept the home side in the fight but costly turnovers and poor shot selection helped bring their championship defence to an end.
United opened the do-or-die clash with a 9-2 start then scored eight in a row after Tasmania hit the front to edge ahead 25-21 after one quarter.
But the visitors kicked off the second period with a Jarrad Weeks three-pointer then frustrated Melbourne into a series of turnovers before McVeigh’s triple gave Tasmania a 38-34 advantage approaching halftime.
After being held to nine points for the majority of the quarter, United rallied late with long bombs from Ili and Matthew Dellavedova ensuring the teams went into the main break locked at 40-40.
Adams kept the pressure on the home side as he opened the scoring in the third period then reeled off 10 straight points, including back-to-back triples to extend Tasmania’s lead.
United scrapped their way to an early fourth-quarter lead but Adams ensured the visitors would not be denied, capping a stellar performance with an off-balance three-pointer to put his side ahead 74-68 with one minute to play.