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Image Courtesy - Kai Johnson

Team Solent Kestrels continued their positive start to the 2023-24 season on Saturday evening with a stunning 87-80 victory over the Milton Keynes Breakers. Kestrels controlled the clash for long spells and came away with a deserved 7 point victory behind a mammoth team effort, that included 24 points from Russ Gariepy and 21 from Isa Brandon.

The Breakers who have loaded their roster with ex BBL & Division 1 level calibre talent, didn't lose in the league last season and had already taken wins from Division 1 sides in the Kit King Trophy this season. Whilst Kestrels came into this one off the back of an impressive opening day performance beating NASSA 107-80.

After a back and forth opening exchange between the sides, which saw Isa Brandon and young Forward Will Taylor get on the scoresheet early, Kestrels would string together a 10-0 run, to force an early MK timeout. The hosts responded post timeout however TSK’s Russ Gariepy scored 5 straight points to restore his sides advantage. Elliot Dadds stroked a triple before the quarter came to a close, followed by a Matt Hughes lay up after some pin point off ball movement, leaving the visitors 24-12 to the good after the first.

TSK pushed their lead out to 16 early in the second quarter as Hughes continued to find scores in the paint and whilst the Breakers momentarily trimmed the deficit to 12, it was the Kestrels who stayed in control as Joe Lloyd came off the bench to connect on his first triple of the evening. The sides would trade scores for the remainder of the half, until an 8-3 scoring run for the home side, saw the cut the Kestrels lead to 10 by the break, 41-31 TSK.

Breakers pulled themselves within single digits trimming the gap to 8, however that would be as close as they got in the third quarter as Kestrels moved onto complete control. Joe Lloyd knocked down another triple to re-establish a 13 point lead for TSK, and within just 2 minutes after this the visitors had increased the lead to 21 at 62-41, off the back of a 10-2 run. A back and forth close to the quarter saw MK cut the gap to 18 but Kestrels rallied and used a Gariepy 3 point buzzer beater, to ensure they took a 73-51 lead into the final 10 minutes.

Kestrels were able to push the gap to 25 in the early stages of the final period as Brandon and Gariepy continued to score at will. A 7-0 run in response for the hosts however forced Coach Guymon into his first timeout of the half, to settle his side down. Post timeout TSK’s offensive production slowed down and shot selection become an issue, resulting in another impactful scoring run from the home side, this time to the tune of 9-0 capped off with an Andre Arissol triple. Kestrels used their second timeout with 3.57 to play, 80-71 in front, out of the timeout Joe Lloyd knocked down a tough contested 3 to give TSK some much needed respite. Arissol cut the lead back to 10 but neither side were able to score across the following 2 minutes, which better suited the Kestrels. Isa Brandon split a pair of free throws, after Jordan Spencer did the same for the Breakers and that left the scoreline at 84-74 with a minute remaining. Spencer made 4 consecutive from the foul line to cut the gap to 6, before Gariepy split a pair and when Blayne Freckleton scored in close for MK the TSK lead was just 5 with 39 seconds left. Both sides came up with empty possessions before Isa Brandon escaped for a breakaway dunk to seal the TSK victory.

Kestrels Head Coach Matt Guymon gave his thoughts on a gritty performance from his squad, “This was a fantastic result for our group against a very talented MK Breakers team. Our senior players were excellent today at both ends whilst we also got a number of key contributions from our U19s. The late run from the Breakers certainly put pressure on our guys, but I am so proud of the way they were able to close out the game.”

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