THE Cockburn Cougars solidified sixth position in the Men’s SBL on Sunday with an emphatic win over the Geraldton Buccaneers while the Goldfields Giants got back on the winner’s list at the expense of the Mandurah Magic.
There were two matches on Sunday afternoon to close Week 19 in the Men’s SBL with one featuring two playoff bound teams who look likely to meet in the quarter finals and the other between two teams looking for a win in their second last games of 2017.
The defending champion Cockburn Cougars were simply on fire at Wally Hagan Stadium with Lochlan Cummings and Jalen Billups leading the way in Rhett Della’s 200th game for the club as they beat the Geraldton Buccaneers 116-96.
Sunday’s other fixture saw the Goldfields Giants snap a five-game losing slide against the Mandurah Magic with a 73-69 victory at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
The penultimate round of the season began back on Friday night with four games that saw the Perth Redbacks beat the Mandurah Magic 94-70, the South West Slammers win an overtime classic 105-102 over the Perry Lakes Hawks, the Rockingham Flames also win in extra time 94-87 against the Kalamunda Eastern Suns and the Willetton Tigers defeat the Stirling Senators 85-75.
Then on Saturday night, the South West Slammers beat the Goldfields Giants 92-79, the Geraldton Buccaneers defeated the Stirling Senators 101-97, the Lakeside Lightning stayed alive beating the Perry Lakes Hawks 99-98, the Cockburn Cougars beat the East Perth Eagles 95-88 and the Joondalup City Wolves defeated the Willetton Tigers 75-72.
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WEEK 19 MEN’S SBL PREVIEW
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The Magic and Giants might not have been playing for a playoff spot at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre on Sunday, but finishing the season with some winning form does count for something.
That Magic had been in their best run of form of the season before the serious-looking knee injury to veteran big man Taylor Mullenax on half-time of Friday’s loss to the Perth Redbacks while the Giants have had their woes of late too and arrived in Mandurah on a six-game losing run.
It was a bit of a low-scoring slog for much of the game but it was the Magic without Mullenax who made the fast start with the opening five points. The Giants were able to respond to lead by a point at quarter-time and then leading into half-time build that up to a seven-point advantage.
The Giants then led by as much as 12 during the third quarter but by early in the fourth the Magic were back within two.
Several times down the stretch Mandurah kept getting it back to a two-point game, but Goldfields answered each time and by the time Jacob Holmen scored with 2:40 left to take them to a six-point lead, that was enough to secure the eventual four-point win.
Holmen had a strong game for Goldfields with 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists shooting 10-of-19 from the floor and 6-of-8 at the foul line.
Billy Hicks stepped up off the bench with 17 points while Daniel Forlano contributed 13 points, four rebounds and four steals, and JB Pillard 11 points, 10 boards and four assists.
Point guard Will McNeill was again the standout for Mandurah with 28 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals before fouling out late in the piece.
Daniel Munday contributed 12 points and six assists, Akau Deng 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Chad Simpson six points and eight boards.
There was plenty on the line at Wally Hagan Stadium with the defending champion Cougars hosting the Buccaneers in a rematch of last year’s semi-final series. While both teams appear set to finish sixth and third respectively, a win against the other heading into the playoffs could be telling.
In the end, the Cougars were simply on fire especially from three-point territory shooting 18-of-36 for the game and going at 57 per cent from the field overall to pile on 116 points and beat the Buccs by 20 points.
With Lochlan Cummins going 6-of-10 from downtown, Jalen Billups 4-of-8, Seva Chan 3-of-4, Steven Van Lit 2-of-4, Gavin Field 2-of-6 and Rhett Della 1-of-1 in his 200th game for Cockburn, it was a dynamic performance from the Cougars to showcase their full firepower.
Things remained tight for much of the first half but the Cougars were helped to get on top with Buccs big man James Paringatai receiving two technicals in the second quarter for questioning some calls on him that he did appear to have a case to at least query.
But his day was done and Cockburn picked up the momentum to lead 61-51 at half-time. But just when it appeared the game was slipping away, the Buccs did well to steady.
They closed to within four points by three quarter-time and to have all the momentum with Jackson Hussey and Mo Barrow warming up, and Mat Wundenberg dominant on the glass.
But the Cougars opened the fourth quarter with a stunning 13-0 run to blow the game open and after leading by as much as 24 points, they went on to win by 20 in style to celebrate the 200th club game of last year’s grand final hero Della in ideal fashion.
Cummings was the breakout star of the game delivering his standout performance of the season for Cockburn with 41 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on shooting 15-of-20 from the field overall.
Billups was also outstanding with 27 points and 11 rebounds to go with his four triples while Chan finished with 14 points and seven assists, Field 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, Van Lit eight points and Della seven.
Cougars captain Field enjoyed seeing his team play well for the wins over the Eagles and Buccs this weekend, particularly with the knowledge they could face Geraldton in the quarter finals. But he knows the key to them is continuing to focus on playing to their potential.
“We’ve had plenty of talk of who we are going to play and it’s still up in the air, but obviously this win helps us. We went up to Gero earlier this year and played pretty poorly but we got them back by about the same margin here,” Field said.
“Having that confidence that we can beat them is nice even though up there is a different atmosphere. But for the few of us who were up there last year semi-finals know that we can do it, it’s just focusing on playing the way we play and that will give us every chance.
“It was a good weekend for us obviously with the two wins and it’s more the momentum that provides. We know that when we are playing well the wins will come.
“The first quarter against East Perth we were a bit sluggish but we then turned it up and started working as a team offensively and defensively, and that’s what we need to focus on going into finals because anyone from one to eight could win it this year.
“There’s not really a disparity between any of the playoff teams so as long as we go into it playing well, it will hold us in good stead.”
The Buccs have now lost five of their past six matches but are still locked into third position. Barrow ended Sunday’s game with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists while Hussey capped a big weekend with 23 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
Dwayne Benjamin had his worst game of the season with just 11 points and nine rebounds on shooting 3-of-15 from the floor.
Aaron Ralph contributed 20 points for the Buccaneers and Wundenberg seven to go with 16 rebounds.
Buccs coach Ray Evans knows that winning when conceding 116 points too often.
“You’re not going to win at all I don’t think conceding that many points. We started the game pretty well and I think both teams did especially offensively, everyone seemed to be in a good rhythm,” Evans said.
“We probably lost our way halfway through the second quarter when we had a few calls go against us and we totally lost momentum then. To the Cougars credit, they shot the ball really well and 50 per cent from the three-point line is pretty hard to match with young Lochie Cummings having a game like he did and also Billups stepping out to knockdown threes.
“It was just one of those games where you try to fight your way back and we did it the night before against Stirling, but you can’t keep doing that and it caught us out in this game.
“When you fight your way and get within four and they come out and knock down their first few shots of the fourth quarter and you are down double-figures again, it just drains you especially mentally. That definitely hurt and all credit to them for shooting the ball and moving the ball well. It’s a tough league and if you’re not up to it on any day, you’ll lose.”
FRIDAY NIGHT ROUND 19 MEN’S SBL RESULTS
Perth Redbacks 94 defeated Mandurah Magic 70
Perry Lakes Hawks 102 lost to South West Slammers 105
Rockingham Flames 94 defeated Kalamunda Eastern Suns 87
Stirling Senators 75 lost to Willetton Tigers 85
SATURDAY NIGHT ROUND 19 MEN’S SBL RESULTS
South West Slammers 92 defeated Goldfields Giants 79
Stirling Senators 97 lost to Geraldton Buccaneers 101
Lakeside Lightning 99 defeated Perry Lakes Hawks 98
East Perth Eagles 88 lost to Cockburn Cougars 95
Willetton Tigers 72 lost to Joondalup City Wolves 75
SUNDAY ROUND 19 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Mandurah Magic 69 lost to Goldfields Giants 73
Cockburn Cougars 116 defeated Geraldton Buccaneers 96
Photo by Mick Cronin