WHILE acknowledging his opponent was far from full strength, Warwick Senators coach Mike Ellis was happy with his team’s first hit out of the 2019 SBL with a big win over the Perth Redbacks on Saturday night as they look to build on their semi-final appearance last year.
When Ellis arrived as coach he wanted to build a belief at the Senators that they could actually turn themselves into being a dangerous yet non-contending team into one that be a genuine title threat, and they took a significant step forward with that in 2018.
They finally won a playoff series eliminating the defending champion Redbacks and even though they came up short to the Joondalup Wolves in the semi finals, it was a significant step forward and that’s why Ellis wanted to back in a similar group in 2019.
Most of those players were ready to go on Saturday night as well even with import Rob Anshila yet to arrive this season and point guard Corban Wroe having departed, and the result was an emphatic 96-61 victory over the Redbacks at Belmont Oasis.
While the Redbacks will be a different looking team in the second half of the season than the one that played on Saturday night once Lee Roberts, Jourdan DeMuynck, Marshall Nelson and Kyle Bowen all return, what it was about for the Senators was building some early season momentum.
Ellis might have felt the Senators were still underdone given a pre-season he didn’t feel was ideal, and they did look a little sluggish in the second half against the Redbacks on Saturday night.
Warwick did lead 42-35 at half-time but with just 14 points in the second quarter, Ellis was anything but happy at the half.
But the Senators opened the second half with a 20-6 to get some momentum flowing and they continued that on the rest of the way to at one stage lead by 39 points before winning by 35.
Warwick ended up shooting 48 per cent from the field and 46 per cent from three-point range along with 51 rebounds to 35 and 25 assists on their 36 field goals.
The 22 turnovers is something Ellis would like to see something tidied up but that will remain a work in progress throughout the season as the Senators use hybrid players as ball carriers without a genuine point guard following the departure of Wroe.
It was Tom Witts who started and spent time in that one spot with three assists with Cody Ellis, Justin King, Caleb Davis and even Wani Swaka Lo Buluk all spending time in that role running and setting up the offence.
There were good signs that the Senators can have another strong season with King finishing with 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Davis 23 points, six boards and two assists.
Just 24 hours after playing in Perth Wildcats’ Game 3 Grand Final win at RAC Arena and hitting the floor for the last three minutes and knocking down a three, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk played 26 minutes for 14 points, five rebounds and four assists including going 3/4 from downtown.
Cody Ellis also had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists, Ash Litterick 10 points, three rebounds and three assists, and Michael Riley seven points and two boards.
Senators coach Mike Ellis knows that the Redbacks were far from full strength, but all he was worried about was seeing his team hit the floor and start to build some momentum early in the new season themselves.
No matter the opponent, he wanted to see them play their brand of basketball and he didn’t get much of that in the first half, but he liked a lot more of what he saw when they came out of half-time.
“It doesn’t matter who you play and obviously Redbacks were very undermanned tonight and we understand that, but the trouble is often when you play a team like that it can become very scrappy and you end up coming in with a poor mindset, which is understandable,” Ellis said.
“Whilst you try to address it, we kind of did that in the first half and I think after going back in at half-time and readdressing it, they came back out for the third quarter with a little more enthusiasm and it showed.
“With the team that they had there with all due respect to them, we should have won by that sort of margin so it was pleasing that they did get up to that level. In that third quarter, they were up and in, playing decent defence, were moving the ball the way they should.
“That was all the things they weren’t doing in the first half that we spoke about. It’s the first game in and we played one pre-season game against Willetton where we were average and you can’t really count the Blitz for us.
“Unfortunately the game we got that was fully timed, we were playing the under-18 country team and it wasn’t fair on the kids to play your main guys against them. This was almost like a first pre-season game for us but it was pleasing in the end and the upside is we have lots to improve on and get better at.”
Clearly the Redbacks are going to be a different outfit when you put Roberts and Bowen into the front court, and add DeMuynck and Nelson to the back court alongside captain Joel Wagner.
When you add those players missing on Saturday to the fact that Jackson Hussey, Mo Barrow, Michael Vigor, Ben Smith and Shawn Redhage won’t be returning from 2018 with the latter three all part of the 2017 championship, and the scoreline was of little surprise.
It was a chance for a new generation of Redbacks to get significant court time, though, and that saw Matier Garang finish with 10 points, eight rebounds and three steals and Zac Gattorna eight points, three boards and two assists despite being restricted to foul trouble.
New arrival David Swaby was equal top-scorer with 10 points while Wagner produced nine points and former Senator Jayden Coburn nine points, three assists and three steals against the team he departed from this off-season.
It was the biggest loss Nik Lackovic has experienced in his SBL career, but once Bowen was a late out due to going to Melbourne to be part of the Perth Wildcats eventual championship celebration, he knew it was going to be tough going without Roberts, DeMuynck and Nelson.
He knows his team in the back half of the season will be significantly different than the one they started the campaign with, but he’s content they will be strong when it matters and that they are heading on the right path.
“The biggest piece that was missing for us was Kyle Bowen. We’re super proud that he has the opportunity to go to Melbourne to play in Game 4 and experience being part of a great organisation trying to close out a championship series, but he really straightens us up,” Lackovic said.
“He gives us a target on the interior and allows the other things to happen, and we are investing in Kyle and Zac Gattorna in the frontcourt, Jayden Coburn who competed really hard and Joel just keeps doing what he does every week and every game.
“We knew this game was going to be a challenge but I liked the way that we competed for a half of basketball. With this group with a lack of depth inside, some foul trouble hurt us in the third quarter and we ended up having one quarter that let us down.
“That’s what you get with a young group, you get inconsistencies but we’ve effectively got another team to come in. Our whole club is excited by the group we’ll have that we are investing in and we’ll continue to back ourselves and them, and refine how we can put on a better performance in Kalgoorlie.”
The Redbacks now head to Kalgoorlie to play the Goldfields Giants on Saturday night while the Senators remain on the road against the Joondalup Wolves at HBF Arena on Saturday as well.
WEEK 1 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Lakeside Lightning 80 defeated Mandurah Magic 77
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 76 lost to Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 112
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 81 lost to Willetton Tigers 90
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 91 defeated Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 83
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 86 defeated Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 70
Print Sync South West Slammers 98 lost to CMTG East Perth Eagles 108
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 61 lost to Bethanie Warwick Senators 96
Mandurah Magic 75 lost to Kalamunda Eastern Suns 82
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 65 lost to Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 98