DAMIEN Scott was putting on a clinic and appeared on track to enshrine the Willetton Tigers as the hottest team in the West Coast Classic, but the Warwick Senators turned things around in stunning fashion to score an eighth win in-a-row.
Both teams came into the Round 7 contest at Willetton Basketball Stadium in hot form with the Tigers keeping themselves in the finals hunt having won their last four matches while the Senators were sitting on top of the standings having won seven in succession.
It was always going to be a fascinating contest with both teams throwing everything at it, and the Tigers got on top early when Scott took the ball hard to the hoop and drew two quick fouls on returning Senators point guard Corban Wroe.
Scott went on to put up 13 points in the opening quarter, another four in the second and then suddenly after he converted a three-point play after drawing the foul on Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, then stole the ball and delivered to Lewis Thomas for a breakaway slam the Tigers were on fire.
Willetton looked unstoppable at that point leading by 12 halfway through the third quarter. It was going to take something remarkable for the Senators to turn it around and they provided it.
It started with Cody Ellis turning a half court pass to him into a stunning flick pass for a Justin King layup, and then the Senators got locked in defensively and dominated the rest of the way.
From that point on, the Senators outscored the Tigers 23 points to six for the rest of the third quarter and 50 to 25 the rest of the night to end up winning 105-92.
It’s a significant result for both teams too with the Senators improving to an 8-1 record to remain in top position ahead of hosting the Kalamunda Eastern Suns on Saturday night.
Despite having played outstanding basketball for pretty much all their 10 games so far, the Tigers will struggle to reach finals now at 6-4 with games to go away to Geraldton and Joondalup, and at home to Cockburn.
With both teams in such good form and the Senators trying to maintain top spot with an eighth straight win and the Tigers attempting to win a fifth in-a-row to break into the top four, it was a hotly anticipated contest.
It attracted a star-studded crowd too headlined by Perth Wildcats superstar Bryce Cotton with Rhys Vague, Jacob Chance, Vince Kelley, Adrian Majstrovich, Austin Bruton, Alan Black and Deanna Black among those spotted on the evening at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
They were treated to a tremendous contest too with Damien Scott driving hard to the basket on the first two possessions for Willetton and drawing two fouls on Corban Wroe in his first game back from a hamstring injury for Warwick.
Scott then lifted the Tigers to a 6-2 opening to the game but it was Andrew Black’s triple heading towards quarter-time that saw Willetton work their way on top again. Scott then converted an and-one to help Willetton lead by two after one.
Wroe returned to start the second quarter and immediately scored for the Senators before turning the ball over and then finding Caleb Davis for a triple before another turnover, then another foul and returning to the bench for the rest of the half in a brief yet eventful return.
Davis nailed another three to give the Senators a five-point lead and then he responded to a triple from Black with yet another from downtown to keep the visitors up five midway through the second term.
Cody Ellis hit another from deep to stretch the Senators lead to eight but Black brought it back three soon after and then put the Tigers in front with a jumper.
From there the Tigers were up one by half-time with it all to play for.
Scott and Ellis traded three-pointers to open the second half for their teams before a 10-0 Willetton run put the home team up nine. That became 10 with a three-point play from Scott as he charged hard at the basket and Wani Swaka Lo Buluk was called for the block.
Then on the subsequent possession Scott grabbed an errant pass, dished off to Lewis Thomas for the wide open dunk and the Tigers had all the moment and a 12-point lead.
Senators coach Mike Ellis didn’t call a timeout, instead trusted his group to get themselves out of trouble and they did starting with a brilliant flick pass from Cody Ellis to Justin King straight after that slam from Thomas.
Ellis then drained a triple himself and King did similarly soon after and in the blink of an eye it was a one-point game, and the Senators head weathered the storm and went into three quarter-time leading by five.
The Senators then continued on with it in the fourth quarter with Wroe nailing two threes in no time to make it a double-digit lead for the visitors.
They retained control from there to win 105-92 and remain in top spot while Willetton’s finals aspirations took a hit despite once again the amount of encouraging signs they continue to show.
For Warwick coach Mike Ellis, he just felt that the game turned in the second half because the effort levels of the Senators rose to where they needed to be.
“It was just effort, I think it was effort. The first half their effort far outweighed ours and they played a great game. They came in with a good game plan and they really just put the pressure on us defensively, and we didn’t answer the call,” Ellis said.
“And defensively ourselves we were on the back foot the whole team and were very passive. We let Scotty get off the hook and it wasn’t like we didn’t talk about it before the game, obviously we know he can really torch you and he was almost running the Olympic torch around the place. He was good.
“But they were really good in that first half and we weren’t, and even at the start of the second half we did start to get a little better with our effort but then when we got 12 down, it was about that time we started to say we had to do something about this.
“We then started to get the defensive effort that we’ve had all season, we’ve been really good defensive and tonight we were poor. I think in that second half we started to generate some points out of our defence which we hadn’t done in the first part of that game, and that made a difference.
“We were fortunate enough to get some scores out of our defence to get on a little bit of a roll, and made them have to take tougher shots rather than the easy ones they were getting early. I guess that’s where we turned the game around.”
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It might not have been the compete 40-minute performance from the Senators that Ellis was after, but his team did end the night getting some big number games from some of his star players.
Cody Ellis was brilliant for the Senators with 25 points, eight steals, six assists and four rebounds while shooting 10/19 from the floor and 5/12 from three-point land.
Justin King added 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists too for Warwick while connecting on 3/5 from three-point range with Caleb Davis putting up 23 points, 10 rebounds and three assists while also going 5/12 from downtown.
Corban Wroe was limited to 20 minutes on his return from a hamstring injury thanks to foul trouble but still contributed 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk also had eight points and six assists, and Ash Litterick seven points and four rebounds for Warwick.
Coach Ellis hopes the Senators learn some lessons from the game now with four games and two weeks of the West Coast Classic remaining before the finals weekend.
“We take some great lessons out of it and that’s what we talked about in the locker room after. We learned in the first half how not to play and in the second half how to play,” Ellis said.
“That’s the difference but the thing is and this is where I get frustrated with players in general these days, a lot of teams and players come out and thing it’s a tap you can turn on and off.
“It just doesn’t work like that, if your effort isn’t there then you are going to struggle from the get go and that really was epitomised in this game.
“Willetton’s effort was fantastic in that first half in particular, and they blew us off the court, and I said to our guys at half-time we were lucky we weren’t 20 down.
“That could have been real trouble for us and it started to head that way early in the third but we were fortunate enough to turn it around. It was a good lesson about being ready to play every second.”
Ellis was obviously delighted to get his former Perth Wildcats championship winning point guard Wroe back from his hamstring injury that he suffered back in the warm-up of the Round 2 game against the Goldfields Giants.
Understandably he was a bit exuberant but overall Ellis is now looking forward to allowing Wroe to share running the point with Lo Buluk for the rest of the West Coast Classic.
“He looked like he hadn’t played in so long and was just so excited to play that the over-exuberance showed out. And we as coaches talked about it before the game that on the first possession he’d get a foul and he did, and then on the next possession he got another one,” Ellis said.
“So he came and sat down with us and we had decided to start Corban to keep his hammy warm from the warm-up and bring Wani off the bench so he made it through the warm-up.
“But then Wani got two fouls straightaway when he came on too, but that’s when Jay Thwaites came out and we put him on Scotty, and certainly in the second half he did a fantastic job on him. Justin had him for a bit too but we played better team defence and that was the difference.
“Corbs’ second half saw him start to show a bit more too of what we needed with that leadership, we just have to slow him down a little bit.”
Despite the loss, there was a lot to like from what Willetton delivered and the way coach Stephen Black has pulled this group together to be playing during the West Coast Classic.
Damien Scott was brilliant again with 34 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists on shooting 13/20 from the field for the game.
Lewis Thomas added 12 points and nine rebounds for Willetton, Andrew Black 15 points, eight assists and six boards, Hayden Noordhoek 10 points and four rebounds, and Connor Mincherton eight points and four assists.
Willetton now doesn’t play again until travelling to Geraldton next Saturday night while the Senators back up against an Eastern Suns team on Saturday night at Warwick Stadium with nothing to lose.
“We now have to turn it around for tomorrow night and Eastern Suns are that sort of team that we always seem to struggle with for some reason no matter who they’ve got or who we have,” Ellis said.
“It’s always a tough, knockdown, drag out affair and we expect no different. We have a few guys banged up from this game too so we’ll take care of that and see how we go.”
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – MEN
East Perth Eagles 100 defeated Lakeside Lightning 98
Cockburn Cougars 95 defeated South West Slammers 63
Willetton Tigers 92 lost to Warwick Senators 105
Geraldton Buccaneers v Perry Lakes Hawks – Active West Stadium 5.00pm
Joondalup Wolves v East Perth Eagles – HBF Arena 7.00pm
Lakeside Lightning v Mandurah Magic – Lakeside Recreation Centre 7.00pm
Warwick Senators v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Warwick Stadium 7.00pm
South West Slammers v Goldfields Giants – Eaton Recreation Centre 8.00pm
Rockingham Flames v Perth Redbacks – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.00pm
Mandurah Magic v Goldfield Giants – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 12.00pm
Kalamunda Eastern Suns v Rockingham Flames – Ray Owen Sports Centre 2.00pm