PLAYING with great heart can often lead to overcoming any number of obstacles and that continues to be the case for the Willetton Tigers who delivered another tremendous performance against the odds to beat the Perth Redbacks 93-82 at Belmont Oasis on Friday night.
It was always going to be a potentially season-defining game for Perth and Willetton on Friday night with the Redbacks coming into it in eighth spot at 8-9, and the Tigers ninth at 8-10.
Both teams have had their fair degree of challenges too and again on Friday night the Redbacks were playing without an import following the departure of Jourdan DeMuynck and with Lee Roberts at the venue but not having received clearance to play.
That left the Redbacks decidedly young with Marshall Nelson, Zac Gattorna and Majier Garang continuing to lead the way under the guidance of captain Joel Wagner.
But up the other end of the court, the Tigers have had plenty thrown at them this season too having already made an import change, and now having lost impressive forward Chris Galbreath to a broken bone in his foot.
With Michael Collins and Hayden Noordhoek sidelined as well, that meant the Tigers were going to have to dig deep to win on Friday night and that’s exactly what they did.
They led for most of the way but then had to withstand a Marshall Nelson-inspired fight back from the Redbacks in the third quarter.
But the Tigers showed tremendous heart to withstand that and then pull away in the finish to claim the 11-point victory.
The win improves the Tigers to 9-10 on the season ahead of a trip to Geraldton next week while the Redbacks are 8-10 ahead of a tricky clash with the Cockburn Cougars on Saturday night.
The Redbacks got off to the ideal start with two threes from Marshall Nelson fresh off his remarkably efficient 42-point game the previous week.
That saw the home side lead 6-2 but the Tigers soon went on an 8-0 run to work their way on top and then go on to lead 26-16 by quarter-time having scored 20 of the last 26 points of the period.
Willetton were still up by 10 points by half-time but the Redbacks worked back into the game in the third quarter. With Nelson warming up, he put the Redbacks in front with a triple with 4:30 left in the term and the game was right up for grabs with Willetton leading 65-64 with one to play.
Buckets to Michael Garbellini and Andrew Black to open the fourth quarter saw Willetton lead back out to five and it soon grew to nine with successive scores from Scott Elder and Connor Mincherton.
Andrew Black made it 12 on a layup and while the Redbacks kept coming to make things interesting, the Tigers held on well for the 11-point victory.
Jackson Hussey top-scored for Willetton against the team he played with in 2018, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Damien Scott added 22 points and seven rebounds for the Tigers while Mo Barrow produced 14 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals.
But it was the host of other contributors that were key with Michael Garbellini finishing with eight points, Dylan Hampson seven points and three rebounds, Connor Mincherton seven points and two assists, and Andrew Black six points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Marshall Nelson produced another outstanding performance for the Redbacks with 38 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals on shooting 12/21 from the field, 7/13 from three-point territory and 7/8 from the foul line.
Majier Garang also had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Redbacks, Joel Wagner 11 points and 10 assists, and Zac Gattorna nine points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Willetton coach Stephen Black couldn’t hide what the win meant to the Tigers after the game and with what pride he took in seeing young players like Dylan Hampson and Connor Mincherton step up to play such pivotal roles.
“It’s a really big win. Just the way that our group has hung together after a poor start to the season has been super pleasing to see just the toughness of the boys, and the way that they have just been able to keep building,” Black said.
“Even when teams are coming back at us, we’ve just been able to hold our nerve and I’m really proud of the way the guys are playing. I’m just loving what we’re doing at the moment.
“This was arguably our biggest game of the season and we’ve got Dylan Hampson playing 17 minutes including the last three when the game was on the line. He was active defensively and moving great.
“Connor Mincherton had a plus-minus of 28 and those two kids are probably big revelations for us this year. And that’s just through hard work and biding their time, and waiting and being ready.
“For what Dylan was able to do for us tonight with Scott Elder in foul trouble was incredible. We literally couldn’t have won without him.”
With Galbreath out injured along with Collins remaining sidelined, it’s hard to imagine how the Tigers could have won the game given how small they would have been had Scott Elder not played on Friday night.
He did so while clearly under duress with a lower leg injury, but for him to still play more than 17 minutes and give six points and seven rebounds before fouling out earned him the full respect of his coach.
“Mikey has been injured and we’re just trying to get him back and Scott Elder, I’m as proud of his game tonight as I’ve ever been of a player given how sore I knew he was and his unwillingness to sit out and not play, he was always going to be there for these guys,” Black said.
“He is why coaching in the SBL is fun because he is just all about doing whatever he can for his team and he’s a quality, and he’s a quality human being. So for what he was able to do with Mikey out and Hayden out, and Chris out, you just can’t speak highly enough of him.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 14
Lakeside Lightning 99 defeated Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 52
Print Sync South West Slammers 69 lost to Mandurah Magic 80
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 82 lost to Willetton Tigers 93
Mandurah Magic v Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 7.00pm
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars v Texture WA Perth Redbacks – Wally Hagan Stadium 7.00pm
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants v ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks – Niels Hansen Basketball Centre 7.30pm
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers v CMTG East Perth Eagles – Active West Stadium 7.30pm
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames v Print Sync South West Slammers – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.00pm
Bethanie Warwick Senators v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Warwick Stadium 8.00pm