THE Kalamunda Eastern Suns survived a late scare from the East Perth Eagles at Ray Owen Sports Centre on Saturday night and look to have overcome the fright of a knee injury to star big man Louis Timms to stay in the Men’s SBL playoff race.
The Eastern Suns have appeared the great untapped team so far this season but with a new coach coming in with Mark Utley taking over and introducing a new game style with a host of new players, it was always going to take some time.
But with two outstanding imports with Josh Braun and Javion Blake, one of the best Australian players in the league Louis Timms and a strong supporting cast made up of Jono Diaz, Carl Aylett, Logan Viskovich, Corey Easley, Cooper Lowe and Ryan Blanchett, there’s plenty to work with.
However, coming into Saturday night’s home clash with the Eagles, the Suns were desperate for a win to try to kickstart a run of wins they will need if they are to reach the playoffs.
It loomed as a great danger game, though, against an East Perth team still undergoing plenty of change. Colin Driscoll didn’t coach either game this weekend with 257-game club great John Taylor in charge with a new coaching structure with main assistant Dave Jackson also having moved on.
Personnel had changed too with Dennis Tawhiti, Matt Leary and Andrej Donlagic unavailable while Shaquille Maharaj lasted just seven games before former import guard Anthony Golden arrived to join Cameron Williams in the backcourt.
On top of that, the Eagles put in a superb performance to beat the Mandurah Magic by 24 points on Friday night so the challenge was ahead of the Eastern Suns with their season on the line.
But they dominated most of the game to end up leading by 19 points with two minutes to go. They did suffer a scare over the next 90 seconds with East Perth hitting the next eight points, and 13 of 15 to close within eight.
The Suns steadied enough to win 122-112 to breathe a sigh of relief with Louis Timms also looking to have avoided any knee damage despite a nasty looking fall in the third quarter that ended his night.
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Coming into the game following competitive showings but losses to the defending champion Perry Lakes Hawks and top four teams Rockingham Flames and Warwick Senators, the Eastern Suns weren’t playing too badly but needed to get back to winning.
The Suns started well too in an up-tempo first quarter which consisted of 57 points. They scored 34 of those to lead 34-23 with Josh Braun on fire putting up 14 points on his own.
Kalamunda kept that momentum going in the second quarter and it was a host of other Suns players stepping up including an individual 7-0 run from Logan Viskovich made up of a three-pointer, layup and alley-oop finish on a pass from Javion Blake.
But East Perth wasn’t going away and when Kieran Berry a three on the buzzer, it cut Kalamunda’s lead at the major break 67-51.
Despite Drew Williamson firing well for the Eagles, Cameron Williams taking the ball hard to the rack and Jordan Wellsteed showing what he’s capable of, the Eastern Suns remained in control of the contest in the second half.
The only scare was when Timms fell awkwardly on his knee with four minutes to go in the third quarter, but still by the time Corey Easley hit from downtown, they led 118-99 with 2:15 left.
That’s where it got interesting. Williams found Jarrad Anastasio for an alley-oop finish before Williams hit a pair of free-throws after a turnover, and then Williamson hit a jumper.
Another turnover and tech foul handed Williamson a gimme and then suddenly on another Suns turnover, Williamson hit another buck.
On the in-bounds pass, Williamson got his hands to it but couldn’t quite keep it in. Had he been able to and if East Perth scored, it would have been a two-possession game. Instead, a tech foul was called on Williamson with Blake converting and the Eastern Suns held on for the critical win.
Suns coach Mark Utley was worried about the game coming into it and he found out why with East Perth’s unwillingness to throw in the towel.
“I had a lot of fears about this game completely. In the SBL Blitz, they played an up-tempo style and beat us by 40 and just with the nature of style they play it meant we struggled to put people like Corey Easley and Cooper Lowe in for match ups because they ran four guards a lot of the time,” Utley said.
“They do play hard all the time and we know that about the Eagles. They have guys I’ve always rated like Drew and with an import that can provide him the output that he got for this game, meant I was really worried coming into it and I’m happy to come away from it with the win.”
Josh Braun delivered another terrific performance for the Eastern Suns finishing with 37 points, six rebounds and four assists on the back of shooting a remarkably efficient 13/16 from the field, 5/7 from three-point range and 6/6 from the foul line.
Javion Blake was tremendous too for Kalamunda with 27 points, 14 assists, five rebounds and three steals while shooting 9/17 from the field and 7/9 from the charity stripe.
Louis Timms was having a good night with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists before going off while Ryan Blanchett also delivered 15 points, six boards and five assists, and Logan Viskovich 15 points and three rebounds.
The Suns also started captain Jono Diaz in his 197th game for some extra energy and he provided seven points and two assists.
Utley has taken the pressure off his team in terms of feeling they need to win by telling them to just go out and play and not worry about where they sit in the context of the season, and whether they are playoff bound or not.
That certainly worked on Saturday night given they put up 122 points and shot a stunning 46/74 at 62 per cent from the field, 12/22 from three at 54 per cent and 18/23 at 78 from the foul line.
“We try to take the pressure off of it being a must-win game or not. I said to the guys last week that we might not be going to make the finals now to try and take that pressure off so we can just come out and play loose to see how we go,” Utley said.
“It showed in this game that when we run our stuff and run it well, we can be a bit of an offensive threat. I was happy with us offensively because we were quite efficient and we had worked on that during the week.
“We thought we did allow them too many driving opportunities and people like Williamson and Williams got off the chain a little bit.
“I also thought Jordan Wellsteed played really well for the Eagles but overall, our guys offensively have been really quite good and this showed that when Javion is firing and Josh is firing, we’re ready for big games.
“If Louis Timms hadn’t gone off, he was sitting on 15 and seven so he was set for a big night.”
East Perth captain Drew Williamson was outstanding with 33 points, five rebounds and five assists on the back of a brilliant shooting night of 12/18 from the floor and 7/11 from three-point range.
Cameron Williams had a strong game too for the Eagles with 26 points, seven assists, six steals and three rebounds while Jordan Wellsteed was impressive with 16 points and four boards.
Jarrad Anastasio showed he has the ability to be a productive centre in the league with 14 points and five rebounds while Jermaine Malie contributed 11 points, six rebounds and four assists, and returning import Anthony Golden seven points, four boards and three assists.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 15
Bethanie Warwick Senators 76 lost to ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 100
CMTG East Perth Eagles 107 defeated Mandurah Magic 83
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 77 defeated Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 68
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 91 defeated Print Sync South West Slammers 77
Mandurah Magic 94 lost to Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 99
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 80 defeated Willetton Tigers 77
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 99 defeated Texture WA Perth Redbacks 71
Lakeside Lightning 76 defeated Bethanie Warwick Senators 73
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 122 defeated Schweigen East Perth Eagles 112
Print Sync South West Slammers 79 defeated Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 74