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County Upper Wolves claim derby honours in first league clash away to Bury Bulldogs in National League

County Upper Wolves have won the first league derby between Bury St Edmunds’ two National League basketball sides.

Bury Bulldogs played host on Saturday in Division Three of the National Basketball League, claiming a close 81-74 victory to return to winning ways while confining their visitors to the foot of the East region standings.

It was County Upper’s first win in December with three consecutive defeats – including a forfeit to Nottingham Trent University Hoods in their last fixture, scheduled for December 14, while the Bulldogs are now winless since November 16.

Bury Bulldogs v County Upper Wolves - The County Upper Wolves team..Pic - Richard Marsham. (24923654)
Bury Bulldogs v County Upper Wolves - The County Upper Wolves team..Pic - Richard Marsham. (24923654)

Both teams will have a weekend off before returning to league action on Saturday, January 4; the Bulldogs will host University of Nottingham while County Upper will host Essex Rebels II.

Bulldogs started brightly, with Billy Smith and Ashley MacDonald connecting from range, before Brandon Moncrieffe got County on the board with the first of his game-high 22 points.

In a back-and-forth opening quarter, Bulldogs took an early lead behind the work of Adam Ball, Denby Ablard and Smith, before a 15-4 run from County gave them the initiative. A quickfire pair of scores from Brandon Marshall and a three from Ball gave Bulldogs a one-point lead before a late three gave County a 19-21 lead after the first quarter.

Bury Bulldogs v County Upper Wolves - The Bury Bulldog team..Pic - Richard Marsham. (24923653)
Bury Bulldogs v County Upper Wolves - The Bury Bulldog team..Pic - Richard Marsham. (24923653)

The second quarter was a scrappier affair, as both sides ratcheted-up their defensive intensity. Tom Guerrero, returning from injury, found his range early in the quarter, before MacDonald restored the lead for the Bulldogs.

With the scores tied-up at 30-apiece and two minutes to play in the half, Moncrieffe, Saunders and Jegede led the charge for County, as they seized the initiative with a 13-5 run, to lead 43-35 at the half.

The third quarter saw Bulldogs repeatedly get within touching distance of County, only for the Wolves to edge away again, as the lead grew to 51-62.

A pair of threes from Matt Spurling and Sonjay Williams, punctuated by another score from Smith, saw the Bulldogs close the lead to just one point with five minutes to play.

On the next play, with County at the line, MacDonald was adjudged to have conceded a touch foul as Smith caught an elbow from Jegede, breaking the captain’s nose and robbing coach Arron MacDonald of two key players.

The Bulldogs fought on, but a pair of scores from Jegede and an Ennis-Bugg three opened up an eight point County lead with just two minutes to go.

The Bulldogs made three of four at the line and made key stops to cut the lead to five points, as County Upper stalled at the foul line, but had built enough of a cushion to close out the game 74-81.

County Upper’s leading scorers were Moncrieffe (22), Jegede (20) and Ennis-Bugg (13) while Bulldogs leading scorers were Smith (16), Ball (13) and MacDonald/Marshall (9).

“I’m really proud of our team” coach MacDonald said. “We worked our tails off, moved the ball and stuck to our game plan, a couple of balls didn’t bounce our way, and we missed too many free-throws to have any complaint about the outcome.

“That being said, there was a ‘sliding doors’ moment in the fourth quarter – we lose Ashley to a touch foul and lose Billy to a broken nose, and I felt those decisions were wrong – they could have easily gone the other way.

“Between that, the headbutt on Ashley earlier in the game and the incident in the fourth quarter, I thought we showed tremendous poise and that meant that the passion never boiled over into anything more from our side.

“It was the last home game of the decade, and the first meeting of these sides at the same time. The result didn’t go our way – but that doesn’t change how I feel about our team.

“I love these guys, they work hard and get better every week. It’s a great opportunity for reflection though, and it’s a fantastic time for basketball in Suffolk.

“As a club, we’ve still got almost twenty people involved from when we last played County, we’ve got clubmark status and are really working to grow the game across the area.

“County Upper have attracted some high calibre players to their team, and are competing in the top half of the division; and, of course, you have the superb work that Ipswich are doing, too. Hopefully it contributes to a bright future for our sport in our area.”

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