THE Perth Redbacks and Geraldton Buccaneers were pushed to the absolute limit by the South West Slammers and Stirling Senators respectively, but ultimately both won their Game 3 quarter-final match ups on Sunday at home to advance to the next round.
In the end, the top four Men’s SBL teams have all prevailed to the semi finals but each of them were forced to three games in a fascinating two weeks of quarter-final basketball that was decided this weekend.
The Joondalup City Wolves beat the Cockburn Cougars 86-65 in Game 3 on Saturday at Joondalup Basketball Stadium to advance, but only after Cockburn beat the Wolfpack 112-90 on Friday night at Wally Hagan Stadium.
The other series decided on Saturday night was when the Willetton Tigers beat the Perry Lakes Hawks 90-87 at Willetton Basketball Stadium. It was the second thriller between the two inside 24 hours after the Tigers won on the buzzer on Friday night 85-84 on a Ray Turner winning jumper.
The two Sunday Game 3s were set up on Saturday night as well with the Perth Redbacks beating the South West Slammers 107-99 at Eaton Recreation Centre and the Stirling Senators downing the Geraldton Buccaneers 93-80 at Active West Stadium.
It was two more thrillers then on Sunday with each team’s season on the line, starting at Belmont Oasis with the Perth Redbacks holding off the South West Slammers to win 87-81.
That sees the Redbacks move on to the semi finals to take on the Tigers.
Then in Geraldton, the Senators gave themselves every chance of what would have been a remarkable to performance to win twice on the road to advance, but the Buccaneers did just enough to claim the 84-82 victory.
That sees the Buccs set up a semi-final series with the Wolves with a grand final spot at stake.
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At Active West Stadium, the Senators entered Game 3 on a high following Saturday night’s win to force the decider and the pressure was all on the home team with the Buccs not wanting to lose twice in front of their home fans inside 18 hours to be eliminated.
That set up a tight and tense battle throughout the whole game.
The Buccs started well on the back of Matt Hancock. He went scoreless on Saturday night but hit two threes early on Sunday to help his team to a 6-2 start and they held the advantage to lead 24-17 by quarter-time.
That stretched to 28-17 early in the second quarter on a Dwayne Benjamin dunk and after a triple from Mo Barrow the Buccs were up by 12. But Stirling stemmed the tide and had got back within nine by half-time.
Geraldton did regain an 11-point lead early in the third term but Stirling was storming back and scores were tied when Cody Ellis nailed a triple with three minutes left in the quarter.
He hit another to give the Senators a brief lead but the Buccaneers still led by a point heading into the fourth term.
A Dylan Myers triple gave the Buccs some breathing room again to start the fourth quarter but by the time Corban Wroe hit a three, the Senators led by four with seven minutes left and tension was building with the Geraldton locals.
Another Wroe layup saw the visitors remain in front until Barrow drained a three with 3:30 to tie scores up.
Benjamin hit a three soon after to put the Buccs up by three before things were all square following an and-one from Ellis.
Both teams exchanged free throws with Geraldton leading 81-80 with just over a minute remaining and a strong move to the basket and trademark finish by Benjamin proved the game-winner for the Buccs.
Jesse Dixon did have a desperation attempt at a game-winner but it didn’t fall and the Buccs won by two to breathe a sigh of relief and advance to the semi finals against the Wolves.
Dwayne Benjamin had a huge afternoon for the Buccs with 33 points and eight rebounds shooting 13-of-19 from the field, 3-of-5 from long range and 4-of-6 at the charity stripe.
Mo Barrow finished with 19 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists for Geraldton while Matt Hancock contributed 12 points and four boards.
Jackson Hussey was restricted to just 15 minutes because of foul trouble and had just four points but Aaron Ralph had five points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes, and Dylan Myers played an important 13 minutes.
Mat Wundenberg also had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Cody Ellis did all he could to try and lift the Senators into the semi finals with 27 points and seven rebounds including nailing 5-of-11 from three-point land.
Corban Wroe added 18 points and eight assists for Stirling, Rhys Vague 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists, Austin Bruton eight points and Tom Witts seven.
Then at Belmont Oasis, the Slammers and Redbacks had played two high-calibre, physical and intense games already coming into the decider on Sunday and that certainly didn’t fail to deliver either.
Along the way technicals were called on both teams, Clive Weeden and Shawn Redhage were called respectively for unsportsmanlike fouls on one another, there was blood spilled and neither team backed down an inch until the final buzzer.
But in the end with the experience of Shawn Redhage and the emergence of Marshall Nelson, the Redbacks just got the job done to come away with the six-point victory.
The Slammers shot out of the blocks in ominous fashion racing to a 9-2 and 15-4 lead with the game played right at their tempo. By the time Teny Puot hit consecutive threes, the Slammers led 18-7 and the momentum was theirs.
But the Redbacks had done well to slow them in the second half of the quarter and trail by just five points by quarter-time and then take the lead themselves early in the second when Zac Gattorna drained a three.
The Redbacks went into half-time leading 44-42 and the stage was set for a scintillating second half.
Big men Weeden and Chris Douglas combined early in the third quarter to put the Slammers back in front and they were back up by six with some Tre Nichols free throws, but him picking up a fourth foul did slow the visitors somewhat.
They did still lead by seven points on several occasions late in the third quarter but the Redbacks had cut that to two by three quarter-time.
The game was always destined to go down to the wire but Redhage showed why he was such a big-game player at the Perth Wildcats with his 13 fourth quarter points.
But the Slammers had remained close enough to strike but ultimately Douglas missing both free throws with a minute remaining and Nichols uncharacteristically doing the same with just over 20 seconds left proved costly.
The Redbacks went on to close the game and it was a series between two teams who deserve to have been genuine championship contenders in 2017.
Shawn Redhage ended up with 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Redbacks with Marshall Nelson contributing 18 points, three boards and three steals including hitting 4-of-6 from three-point territory.
Ben Smith added 13 points for Perth, Lee Roberts 13 points, six rebounds and four assists, Joel Wagner seven points, four boards and three assists, and Michael Vigor six points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks.
Tre Nichols ended up with 30 points for the Slammers on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from deep and 9-of-11 at the foul line.
Brian Voelkel contributed 16 points, 23 rebounds and nine assists for the Slammers, Chris Douglas nine points, Teny Puot nine points and Clive Weeden six points and six boards.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic never doubted the threat the Slammers were coming into the series and that respect for them only grew as the three games went on. That’s why he now has no doubt the Redbacks have improved significantly over the past two weeks having played them.
“We understand that this is a team that given the freedom to play their style they can score in bunches. They’ve got perimeter threats, they run a lot of misdirection out of the post and if you turn your head on guys like Tre, Michael Lay and Puot they can strike pretty hot from the perimeter,” Lackovic said.
“They are aggressive downhill and they like to try to get some stuff out of transition. We understood that if we took care of the ball the right way, executed with poise and patience on offence to get the shot we wanted, and understood that we held some potential advantages in size that we might be a chance of doing well.
“We prepared to see a lot of zone and the guys started finding the right seams and angles against that, and maintenance of the clock and being smart with what we wanted to get helped us in our transition defence. Keeping them off the foul line was another key, important area which we didn’t do great with in the series but we did in patches.
“But they are aggressive off the bounce and Tre Nichols is as good a point guard as I’ve ever seen come play in this league. He gave me headaches in establishing how we wanted to play him in on-balls, isolation and transition. But our guys prepared so well for this game physically and mentally, and they deserve the credit for being able to come back.
“I told Nixy and his team afterwards that I’m very appreciative of how competitive the series was because I felt we grew and got better as a result. Credit goes to them for that and I really respect who and what they are, and how hard they compete. No doubt they made us better this series.”
Having fallen behind against a quality opponent in the series and needing to win twice inside 18 hours with the travel to and from Bunbury thrown in, Lackovic couldn’t be prouder of his Redbacks.
“I’m extremely proud. I value their character so much and to be down one-nil in this series against a team like Bunbury who have talent all around the floor, and us needing to travel to Bunbury understanding it’s a do-or-die game our backs were against the wall a little bit,” Lackovic said.
“So in those situations we place a high emphasis on the character of our players and the values which we plan and align to.
“They stood up and when you’ve got guys like Joel, Lee, Shaw, Ben Smith and Marshall Nelson who has grown as the season and series has gone on, you feel pretty comfortable rolling the ball out and understanding what they are capable of doing when they play together.”
MEN’S QUARTER FINAL RESULTS – GAME 2s
Perry Lakes Hawks 84 lost to Willetton Tigers 85
Cockburn Cougars 112 defeated Joondalup City Wolves 90
MEN’S QUARTER FINAL RESULTS – GAME 2s
South West Slammers 99 lost to Perth Redbacks 107
Geraldton Buccaneers 80 lost to Stirling Senators 93
MEN’S QUARTER FINAL RESULTS – GAME 3s
Willetton Tigers 90 defeated Perry Lakes Hawks 87 (Tigers win 2-1)
Joondalup City Wolves 86 defeated Cockburn Cougars 65 (Wolves win 2-1)
MEN’S QUARTER FINAL RESULTS – GAME 3s
Geraldton Buccaneers 84 defeated Stirling Senators 82 (Buccs win 2-1)
Perth Redbacks 87 defeated South West Slammers 81 (Redbacks win 2-1)
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia