Star stunned by Swords as US ace Oliver is sent off in Dublin
Belfast Star were left bitterly disappointed by their first loss of the season, which included the controversial dismissal of American Ryan Oliver on Saturday night away to title contenders Swords in the All Ireland Superleague.
Star went down 65-58, despite leading at half-time and by 10 points late in the third quarter against a side who last year would have brushed aside the challenge of the Belfast men. So, while Star coach Darren O'Neill was "gutted" by the loss he was also taking confidence from the performance.
At one point in the fourth quarter Star hit 14 unanswered points but allowed the Dubliners to claw their way to level at 22-22 going into the second quarter. The crucial moment came two minutes into the third quarter when American Oliver was deemed to have committed two unsportsmanlike fouls and therefore - due to a new rule this season - had to be ejected from the game.
While Star still managed to keep their noses in front by the end of the quarter, the lack of Oliver's scoring prowess hurt them badly down the stretch as they only managed to score seven points in the final quarter.
O'Neill said: "I couldn't see why Ryan was sent from the game. The first so-called foul he was said to have held back the Swords player when I felt they just got tangled up and on the second one, when the referee blew up, initially neither player knew who the offence was going to be given against but Ryan was said to have had a high elbow.
"I'm not going to use that as an excuse for the defeat because we had the game in our hands and we came away feeling very disappointed but it clearly didn't help our cause to lose Ryan.
"If you said to me before the game that we would keep Swords to 65 points I would have said we'll win by 15 but we just lost our scoring touch in the fourth quarter. At one point I thought the basket had a lid on it.
"But on the positive side, I believe we have the firepower and the quality to beat anybody in the league."