NOT only did the Perth Redbacks show good heart to bounce back from a disappointing Friday night loss to upset the Geraldton Buccaneers on Sunday on the back of another standout Marshall Nelson effort, but inspirational captain Joel Wagner made SBL history.
The Redbacks came into the Sunday clash against the second placed Buccaneers at Belmont Oasis seemingly with the job ahead of them coming off Friday night’s disappointing 38-point defeat also on their home floor at the hands of the Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
Meanwhile, Geraldton started its double-header road trip with a hard-fought win in Rockingham on Saturday night which returned them to second spot on the table, but they needed to win again against the Redbacks on Sunday to stay there.
While the Buccaneers were playing without Aaron Ralph who had to sit out the weekend due to mid-week surgery and with Marcus Alipate unavailable, it did appear the job was ahead of the Redbacks who had lost their previous five matches coming into the contest.
But nobody told the Redbacks that and they were an inspired and committed outfit from the outset. And with Lee Roberts and Marshall Nelson combining for 69 points, they returned to the winner’s list impressively with the 89-84 win.
However, it will be a win remembered for the slice of history made when Redbacks Joel Wagner dished out his sixth assist of the game to become the all-time assists leader in SBL history.
With Wagner making history and the Redbacks pulling off the upset win, it was an afternoon to remember for the home team made all the better considering how poor they had been two nights earlier.
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It is a remarkable feat for Wagner to now make history by becoming the all-time SBL assists leader.
He did it in style too with his sixth assist of the night being a pretty two-handed pass over the back of his as he drove to the hoop. That found a wide-open Marshall Nelson to knock down the three and the record was his.
Wagner still recalls his very first assist too when he found Jamie Baker on a backdoor cut back in 2004. His 2774th with be just as memorable too as he set up Nelson to hit another dagger as the Redbacks were on their way to a memorable victory.
Having already celebrated his 350th SBL appearance earlier this season, it’s another significant moment in the glittering career of Wagner. He has played all his games and dished out all his assists playing for the Redbacks while also captaining them to the 2017 championship.
Highlighting his achievement, to break to record he overtake the 2773 assists dished out from Troy Clarke who racked up those numbers in 512 games for the Cockburn Cougars and WA Institute of Sport Warriors.
Wagner has achieved the record in 357 games and showing what a performance it is can be done by looking at how far ahead of the rest of the pack over SBL history he is.
After Clarke, Shamus Ballantyne finished with 2414 assists, Joe-Alan Tupaea and CJ Jackson 1836. He is almost 100 ahead of the man fifth on that list.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic was proud of his team for their bounce back performance, but ultimately it was a day to celebrate Wagner.
“It means everything more so for what we’re measuring for these young guys as a club and today was pretty significant today for our club,” Lackovic said.
“Joel Wagner has been just an incredible servant of the club and he broke the all-time assists record from a guy that I know really well and played with in Troy Clarke. It’s good that it’s someone like Joel who is so deserved because of how much time he’s contributed and given in.
“It doesn’t happen very often anymore where guys are committed to one team in this day and age. You see it at any level whether it’s NBA, NBL or SBL, some guys find it easier to bail out and be more interested in their own personal well-being to chase other things rather than put their club first.
“But Joel is a guy who has just been committed to this club and he is the benchmark in which we measure character, work rate, commitment and discipline.”
As for the game itself, while the Buccs came in with momentum having beaten Rockingham the night before, the Redbacks were clearly motivated to respond to their big loss on Friday night and as a result went on top early.
As it would turn out, the Redbacks did remain on top the rest of the way but there was always a sense the Buccs would make a big run at them late and that’s exactly what transpired.
The Redbacks led 22-14 by quarter-time, still 52-44 at half-time and 72-63 by three quarter-time, but the game would go down to the wire.
When Wagner found Nelson for a three on the record-breaking assist, the Redbacks were still up eight with six minutes remaining but the Buccs weren’t going away.
Things were certainly getting testy down the stretch between all parties involved and the Buccs had reason to be unhappy when their own inspirational 426-game captain Matt Wundenberg fouled out in just 11 minutes after being called for his second flop of the afternoon.
The margin was just four with four minutes to go with Brayden Inger hit from long-range for Geraldton. Nelson nailed a three in response with another Wagner assist but then Liam Hunt scored inside and Inger hit once again from downtown.
Suddenly it was a two-point game before Lee Roberts responded for Perth. DeAngelo Isby nailed a triple in response to make it a one-point game before Roberts kept the Redbacks on top scoring again up the other end.
But Hunt took the ball to the rack for the Buccs to keep it a one-point ball game with a minute left. That’s when things got a little messy but in the end Nelson hit a pair of free-throws to put the Redbacks up 87-84.
Out of a timeout with the shot clock off, Lasher had a good look for the Buccs from three but was fouled by Roberts. The 52 per cent free-throw shooter on the season missed all three at the line, including the third deliberately.
It was a heads up play and Hunt had a shot at the offensive board, but another tough call went against the Buccs when he was called for entering the lane early. That ended the game with Nelson icing the win for the Redbacks with two free-throws.
Having looked at the things that Wagner brings as a leader and teammate, Lackovic couldn’t have been happier to have the rest of the Redbacks step up for the win.
“Then as a team today, those are all the things we measured really well against a really good Geraldton team who are experienced, well-drilled and are going to be a contender,” Lackovic said.
“We wanted to make sure that we won those areas that we talked about so the boys should be really proud of their efforts, especially after the way we performed on Friday. That wasn’t one of our better performances after quarter-time.
“We were leading 15-7 and Mark (Utley) calls a timeout and then at 18-17 I call one too in the first quarter, and then they hit some shots and we dropped our bundle. The young guys just didn’t respond, but today they responded when Geraldton clawed back and tied the game with a three.
“But they didn’t drop their bundle, they prided themselves on being great in their execution in the half-court, hung tough and for a young group with young guys out there like Zac Gattorna and Majier Garang, they made some huge plays. Then you have Marshall who was incredible again.
“I’m super proud of the boys, they deserve it and it shows the growth you are getting out of them with what they are capable of when they respond the way that they did.”
Marshall Nelson delivered another standout performance for the Redbacks as he bangs down the door for another contract in the NBL. He finished with 41 points, 13 assists, five rebounds and four steals on shooting 12/27 from the floor, 6/12 from three and 11/12 from the foul line.
Lee Roberts was terrific as well with 28 points and nine rebounds while Zac Gattorna contributed 11 points and five boards, and David Swaby four points and five rebounds.
The Buccs missed the point guard poise and quality of Marcus Alipate and the all-round contributions and leadership of Aaron Ralph, but still had a shot to win with DeAngelo Isby impressive with 28 points and four rebounds.
Colter Lasher will rue the missed free-throws but had a strong game still with 19 points, four boards, three steals and two assists while Liam Hunt finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds and five blocked shots, Brayden Inger 10 points and three boards, and Brendan Dinardo six points and four assists.
Buccaneers coach Dayle Joseph had reasons for frustration, but instead felt his players could have adjusted to certain things better while being proud of the fight they showed to still have a chance at the win.
“I thought we showed good character to fight back after being 11 down in that last quarter. We still felt we could win it and we got ourselves in a position where we thought we could still win it, but to their credit they stuck to their game plan,” Joseph said.
“It was one of those things where we lacked a bit of self-discipline early in the game which put us down early and we had to play catch up basketball all the way through. I’m very proud that they never gave up though.
“We were a couple light and had a guy like Brendan Dinardo who played nearly 80 over the two games this weekend. His feet are all blistered up but he fought through that.
“Colter played a lot of minutes too over the two games so I’m very proud that we were able to play that hard for that long, but ultimately not get the win.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 17
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 89 lost to Lakeside Lightning 92
Mandurah Magic 48 lost to Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 66
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 77 lost to Kalamunda Eastern Suns 115
Lakeside Lightning 117 defeated Schweigen East Perth Eagles 88
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 89 lost to Scarboro Toyota Perry Lakes Hawks 100
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 84 lost to Willetton Tigers 89
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 66 lost to Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 74
Print Sync South West Slammers 71 lost to Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 79
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 116 defeated Bethanie Warwick Senators 103
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 89 defeated Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 84