THE sign in the locker room said it all: "YOU'RE 40 MINUTES FROM ETERNAL REMEMBRANCE"
And in the end, remarkably, the 2012 Albury-Wodonga Bandits were the little team that could.
The Bandits' 77-69 win over the Knox Raiders in front of 1200 raucous, passionate fans at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre on Saturday night gave the Bandits just their second South East Australian Basketball League south conference title.
The loss means the Raiders miss out on not only the conference title but also the chance to win the league championship at home in the State Basketball Centre this Saturday.
Swarming over the visitors, the Bandits recovered from a horrendous opening five minutes to storm back, and then past a gallant Knox team that could never quite muster enough offence to threaten its hosts.
Knox's SEABL most valuable player candidate CJ Massingale was held to just 16 points on a less-than-stellar 6-20 shooting clip.
Former Bandits swingman Michael Hill was the lone standout for the visitors with a sublime 26-point performance that included three triples.
But it was the Bandits' import duo of Momo Ntumba and Jazz Ferguson that proved the difference. In a dominant inside performance, Ntumba scored 22 points and dragged down a game-high 17 rebounds, including an unbelievable 12 offensive boards. Ferguson had 23 points and hauled down seven rebounds of his own for good measure.
In a stunning opening, the Raiders roared out of the gate, racing to a 16-4 lead on the back of seven points from Hill and some offensive struggles for the Bandits.
A clearly hobbled Lester Strong missed several wide-open chances at the buzzer as the Bandits improbably skipped to the locker room with a 40-36 lead, having outscored the Raiders 20-13 for the second quarter.
In a crucial sequence with four minutes remaining in the third, Ntumba scored in the low post before Ferguson hit another three to hand the Bandits a 58-46 lead. With one quarter to play and a 63-52 lead the Bandits extended the margin with a basket by Ntumba to open the final period.
Massingale finally nailed a three to cut the margin to 73-66 with two minutes to go and the tension was palpable among the capacity crowd.
But free throws from captain Nick Payne and Ferguson sealed the win and fittingly, it was their inspirational captain who dribbled out the clock on a pressure-releasing victory.
The Bandits will play east conference winner Dandenong Rangers in the SEABL men's championship game at the State Basketball Centre, Wantirna South this Saturday at 3pm.