THE Goldfields Giants couldn’t afford a slip up on Sunday afternoon at Wally Hagan Stadium and they produced their best performance in probably two months to deliver a crucial 111-91 victory over the Cockburn Cougars.
The Giants came into the game having fallen outside the top eight on the back of two successive losses to the Willetton Tigers in the space of seven days with them on a four-game losing run heading into the clash on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Wally Hagan Stadium.
A good crowd was in attendance too with the day doubling as the Cougars Family Day for 2019 but it was simply a must-win game for the Giants in the context of their season.
The Cougars were never going to hand anything to them despite continuing to play incredibly shorthanded without an import and still without starting centre Jaarod Holmes and point guard Seva Chan.
So to return to the winner’s list the Giants would have to play well and that’s what they did.
With David Humphreys regaining his shooting touch and Patrick Burke continuing to strengthen his claims to take out the league’s MVP award, the pair combined for 66 points as Goldfields took at the 20-point victory.
That sets up their final two weeks of the regular season at home which if they win both games, a return to the playoffs should be theirs for the first time since 2015.
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ROUND 17 MEN’S SBL RECAP
The pressure was mounting on the Giants coming into Sunday’s game following a heartbreaking one-point defeat the previous evening to Willetton on the back of losing at home in another tight affair seven days earlier to the Tigers.
That saw them concede their position in the top eight to Willetton with the four successive losses and not quite having found their best form since an impressive three-game winning run back in May.
The Giants have gone 3-8 since then heading into Sunday’s tricky clash with a Cockburn team who might be down on manpower and be the least resourced team in the league, but continue to be well coached by Adam Nener and will never stop fighting.
Even if that means Gavin Field spends the game at centre and his frontcourt partners Julian Pesava, Jakob Knight and Matej Mandic are barely three men let alone equipped for the four or five spot, but that’s the card the Cougars have been dealt and they continue to fight bravely nonetheless.
So for Goldfields to get the win they’d have to earn it and with Jay Bowie still struggling with a sore knee and on minutes restriction, they needed others to step up too.
Mayo Malek and Jerome Reid combined to give the Giants the opening five points and it became a 7-2 opening with Patrick Burke scoring in the block. The visitors threatened to open the game up when Dave Humphreys hit a three to make it 15-7, but Gavin Field responded in kind for the Cougars.
But the Giants remained well in command soon lead 24-11 before the Cougars rallied to be just seven down at quarter-time.
Jake Harris hit a three early in the second term to make it a two-point game before Riley Duncan answered with a triple of his own for the Giants.
A three-point play from Julian Pesava had scores all tied up before Goldfields was back up three thanks to Brandon Holloway hitting from long-range.
A Humphries and-one play stretched their advantage back to six and when he was starting to regain some shooting confidence, his three put the Giants up by nine.
But the Cougars wouldn’t stop fighting and finished the half well to cut the Giants lead to just 52-49 at the main break with Bowie and the Giants coaching staff not quite seeing eye to eye on his playing time as he struggles with his sore knee.
However, the Giants got things back on track for the start of the third quarter and put together their best half of basketball for some time, running the undermanned Cougars off their legs and shooting impressively.
Successive threes from Humphries and Reid had the Giants back with some momentum midway through the third term and when Holloway connected from downtown and Humphries hit another, they were back up double-figures.
Bowie was starting to feel better too late in the third quarter, hitting five quick points and there would be no Cougars fight back this time with Goldfields going on with the job in the fourth term to win 111-91 on the back of a 59-42 second half.
It’s no surprise given how undersized the Cougars are but the Giants dominated the boards with 48 rebounds to 35 while sharing the ball well too for 30 assists on their 43 field goals.
Goldfields shot better too with 43/78 at 55 per cent from the field and 12/27 at 44 per cent from three. Cockburn battled hard shooting at 43 per cent from the floor and 35 per cent from three.
Patrick Burke kept up his MVP-calibre form for the Giants with another powerhouse performance made up of 33 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals while shooting 13/21 from the field and 7/8 from the foul line.
Dave Humphries got back to some impressive form too with 33 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals on 12/18 from the floor and 5/8 from deep.
Jay Bowie got through 17 minutes in his first weekend back in action for 12 points, four rebounds and three assists with Mayo Malek contributing 12 points and six rebounds, Jerome Reid eight points and six boards, and Brandon Holloway six points and six assists.
Giants coach Wayne Creek was obviously relieved to get such an important win ahead of home games against the Slammers and Eagles to close the season, but also for the team to play well in doing so.
“This was a playoff game for us and now the win keeps us alive and in the hunt basically. It’s paramount to us going into the post-season,” Creek said.
“We played well and I stressed to the guys at the start and even at half-time, it wasn’t about our ability to play because the guys wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t. It was about our mental approach and how we apply ourselves, that showed today.
“There was a different outlook on things with the way the guys worked together on the floor and we executed well. To me that’s the mental approach to the game and today the guys were all switched on and came ready to play.
“And they wanted to win and it showed. It’s probably the best game we’ve played in about a month since we played Perry Lakes, and credit to the guys for following that process of doing what they need to do.”
Gavin Field was superb for the Cougars, especially considering he played much of the game in the five spot, finishing with 33 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals while shooting 13/22 from the field and 5/10 from downtown.
Julian Pesava added 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists, Matej Mandic 11 points and three assists, Steven Van Lit 10 points and nine assists, Tom Atkinson six points and three rebounds, and Matt Vinci five points.
But they just didn’t have enough support. Seva Chan and Jaarod Holmes suiting up would have undoubtedly helped as would have the presence of an import or two, with that this would be a team with enough fighting qualities to be a playoff threat.
Cougars coach Adam Nener would never question the fighting spirit of his team but acknowledges how hard the players have been pushed is taking its toll late in the campaign.
“At the end of the day, over the last few weeks we’ve had some big games and we’ve pushed teams but the guys are starting to get a bit tired which you can understand when it is a long season and guys like Gav have banged some pretty big guys,” Nener said.
“We are asking them to do more than we probably should but that’s just the position we’re in. I think it’s starting to take its toll but we still have three games to go and we’ll try to finish off pretty solidly.
“We like to think that we play with some Cockburn pride and I think that’s what has got us over the line a couple of times the last few weeks.
“You can’t fault the boys’ effort and one thing we had this year was that we knew we’d be undermanned but we didn’t want to come out of games being outhustled our outworked.
“It’s pretty hard to play with that mentality for a whole season, but we’ve done it well for the most part and you can’t fault the efforts of the boys.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 18
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 97 defeated Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 86
Mandurah Magic 105 lost to Willetton Tigers 107
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 103 defeated Texture WA Perth Redbacks 82
Lakeside Lightning 113 defeated Print Sync South West Slammers 66
CMTG East Perth Eagles 71 lost to Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 96
Willetton Tigers 86 defeated Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 85
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 85 defeated Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 82
Bethanie Warwick Senators 102 defeated CMTG East Perth Eagles 72
Print Sync South West Slammers 87 lost to ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 93
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 71 lost to Kalamunda Eastern Suns 89
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 91 lost to Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 111