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O'Neill eager to strengthen key positions to help Star hit heights

By David Kelly

Belfast Star coach Darren O'Neill believes his side are two quality players away from taking the scalp of the top four teams in the All Ireland Premier League.

Star fought hard but just couldn't find the shooting quality needed to overcome Tralee Warriors on Saturday night at MCB, going down 70-64.

Once again the scoring was left up to American Dillon Stith and Keelan Cairns, who claimed 31 and 16 points respectively, while Tralee's Trae Pemberton hit a game-high 32 and crucially delivered baskets down the stretch to seal victory.

Down by eight at the break, Star trailed 52-46 going into the final quarter and with two minutes remaining the game was on a knife-edge. Despite some tough defence from the Belfast men, American Pemberton came up with two three-pointers and two further baskets which Star couldn't match.

"To hold Tralee to 70 points was great because their average is 79-80 points a game but you can't beat teams of their quality with 64," said O'Neill.

"Again we had Dillon and Keelan in double figures but didn't have the third and fourth scorer to back them up and that's where we are. After the game I only spoke positively to the boys because they played very well and fought to the end. The mentality is right defensively but we need to improve the offence.

"Credit to Pemberton, he came up with four really tough baskets when under pressure and that won them the game. We couldn't match those baskets."

For O'Neill, the match emphasised what he needs to do in the close season if Star are to challenge for silverware once again.

He added: "We are moving in the right direction but it's clear that the number one priority come April is to get a point guard and also a Bosman player who can give us points, a third scorer at least."

The Ulster Rockets made the final of the All Ireland Division One women's National Cup when they defeated Carlow 73-64.

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