WITH the teams knowing most likely they’d be battling over the next two weeks to open the playoffs and missing some key pieces, Sunday’s clash at Warwick Stadium would always be fascinating and it was the Geraldton Buccaneers who pulled away for the nine-point win over Warwick Senators.
It was almost guaranteed for the Buccs and Senators to go on to meet in the quarter finals to open the SBL Finals for 2019 no matter the result on Sunday afternoon at Warwick Stadium, but that didn’t mean each side didn’t want to end the regular season on a high note.
Despite the Senators being without Caleb Davis and the Buccs minus Marcus Alipate and DeAngelo Isby, it was still a high-quality affair pointing now to what should be a fascinating quarter-final matchup between the two teams.
The individual competition between two of the brightest young players in the country, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and Alex Ducas, was almost worth the price of admission alone but in the end the Buccs pulled away in the second half to claim the 96-87 victory.
The result meant that the Buccaneers finished the regular season in third position and the Senators in sixth setting up a tantalising quarter-final series starting on Saturday night with Game 1 at Warwick Stadium.
The winner has every right to feel they could go on to win the championship while the losers will have bowed out in 2019 feeling like they missed a golden opportunity so it’s going to be a series with plenty at stake between two teams now regular title threats over recent years.
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Warwick and Geraldton both came into Sunday’s game to close the regular season coming off Saturday night losses away from home but in the knowledge all things were still pointing to them finishing sixth and third respectively to set up a quarter-final match up.
The Senators lost by 10 points to the Mandurah Magic the previous night while the Buccs started their double-header road trip with a 26-point defeat at the Lakeside Lightning.
So despite their finishing positions not likely to change depending on the result at Warwick Stadium on Sunday, they were both determined to bounce back from the previous, not head into the finals on a losing streak and to build some momentum against their quarter-final opponents.
It was a high-paced opening to the game with the Senators opening up on fire with triples to Cody Ellis and Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, and a layup to Rob Anshila to give them an 8-0 start.
An Aaron Ralph putback dunk got Geraldton on the board before Ellis responded with a turnaround jumper to put the home team up 10-2 after just over two minutes.
Warwick’s tremendous opening started with a Justin King triple to make it 13-4 and then another Ellis three and it 16 -4. But the Buccs answered with a trademark Ralph three and the visitors then worked their way back into the contest.
It was a stunning finish to the first term by the Buccs with a 17-1 run culminating in a three-pointer from Alex Ducas to see them turn a 12-point deficit into a four-point lead by quarter-time.
Liam Hunt began to take over inside to start the second quarter to put Geraldton up six before Oliver Cross kept Warwick in touch with a three which turned into a four-point play.
It then turned into basket for basket for the rest of the half with the Senators working their way on top to lead 49-46 by half-time.
Ellis then hit a three to put the Senators up six to start the second half with Brayden Inger responded in kind for the Buccaneers but Warwick threatened to open a sizeable lead again when Ellis again hit from beyond the arc and Ash Litterick finished on the inside.
They soon were up by nine before Ralph steadied the Buccs with a trademark three of his own. He hit another soon after and when Colter Lasher finished at the rim, suddenly it was a two-point game again.
Ralph hit his third triple in short time to put Geraldton on top briefly with Ngor Manyang responding seconds later . Ducas again hit from long-range just before three quarter-time to give Geraldton the two-point lead.
While the game was right up for grabs at the start of the fourth quarter, the Buccs soon took over starting with a 6-0 run. A three-point play from Hunt saw Geraldton go up nine and then yet another Ralph three saw the margin grow to double-figures.
Ducas then began to take over the game too enjoying matching up with Swaka Lo Buluk, and he hit seven points in just over a minute as the Buccs’ lead grew to 16 points.
Geraldton went on to win the game 96-87 to finish the season with a 19-7 record in third position with Warwick ending up sixth at 16-10.
While the Buccs finished the game strongly, coach Dayle Joseph saw plenty of things to still work on especially in the first half and while it’s nice heading into the finals with a win over your upcoming opponents, he’s realistic to know it’s now a whole new ball game.
“We did finish well but in saying that we didn’t play that well in the first 15 minutes either. It’s a bit hard to get too much out of it even though obviously you take bits and pieces from it,” Joseph said.
“But they were one of their better players short and so were we but hopefully we have a little bit more to offer than we showed in this game. But in saying that, Caleb is a pretty big part of their puzzle too so his return will change some things. You wouldn’t be saying that just because we won this game that we’ll necessarily do the same next week.
“It would have been a dampener to go home with two losses this weekend and sitting on the bus for four hours knowing you just lost two. So the win gives us a little bit of confidence and self-belief that coming into next week I think we can beat any team we play on a given night, although Saturday was one of those nights we didn’t.
“I think if we got another crack at them, we’d be happy to take that. It’s probably the same with Senators, I’m guessing they feel like they would like another crack at us now next week to try and reverse this result.”
The Buccs were without guards DeAngelo Isby and Marcus Alipate for the game, but Aaron Ralph came up huge despite copping a couple of heavy hits throughout the afternoon. He finished with 27 points and seven rebounds on 7/11 from three-point land.
Young gun Alex Ducas was also tremendous with 21 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals while Liam Hunt contributed 18 points and 12 boards despite being a little banged up.
Colter Lasher added 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists with Brayden Inger producing 10 points, five boards and three assists, and Brendan Dinardo seven points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
The Senators are a different-looking team with the presence of Caleb Davis in their line-up, but most people only get married once so he had a fair excuse for his absence.
Ngor Manyang returned from the NBL Next Gen camp during the week to produce 18 points and four rebounds for the Senators while hitting 5/7 from downtown.
Cody Ellis put up 16 points, six assists, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals while Justin King added 13 points, five boards and four assists, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk 12 points, six rebounds and three assists, and Ash Litterick seven points, five rebounds and two assists.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 20
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 106 defeated Prestige Honda Cockburn Cougars 80
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 94 defeated Lakeside Lightning 73
Prestige Honda Cockburn Cougars 114 defeated CMTG East Perth Eagles 108
Mandurah Magic 102 defeated Bethanie Warwick Senators 92
Lakeside Lightning 110 defeated Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 84
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 94 defeated Print Sync South West Slammers 78
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 125 defeated Kalamunda Eastern Suns 84
Bethanie Warwick Senators 87 lost to Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 96
Willetton Tigers 84 lost to ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 88