The West Adelaide Bearcats have failed to take top spot after the Southern Tigers walked out of Port Adelaide with an impressive 66-77 win.
With the Bearcats needing a seven-point victory to go top of the league, the Tigers put together a stellar second half on defence; keeping the home side to just 22 points and ensuring they would have the bye for week 1 of the 2018 finals series.
Forestville’s victory over Norwood means the Bearcats remain safely in second spot, setting up a blockbuster clash against the Flames in Port Adelaide on Saturday.
Despite a sour end to the season, Coach MacLean is content with where his side stands heading into finals.
“We’re happy finishing second, getting a double chance and a home final next week,” says Coach MacLean.
“We haven’t had a full team basically all year…for us to finish 14-4 and have injuries and people missing and people going home is a pretty good achievement.”
The Bearcats failed to deal with the league’s second highest scorer Calvin Turnage, who put up a telling 26 points and was a monster in the paint with 16 rebounds.
Samuel Johns (7 pts, 8 rebs, 9 asts), Greg Mays (12 pts, 4 rebs, 2 blks), Cody Ellison (11 pts, 4 rebs) and Hamish Staude (4 pts, 6 rebs, 4 asts) all put in steady performances for the Tigers in what was an all-around team effort on defence.
Captain Patrick Thomas (17 pts, 10 rebs, 5 asts) was by far West Adelaide’s best on the night, penetrating inside constantly and shooting at a deadly 58%. Tobias Dowdell (13 pts, 7 rebs, 2 stls), Jordan West (10 pts, 8 rebs, 2 asts) and James Legan (16 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts) were influential but at varying levels of efficiency throughout the game.
Southern got the early jump on the Bearcats, quickly creating a 4-12 lead after threes from Brandon Brine and their captain Samuel Johns.
But the Bearcats quickly roared back on the back of their captain.
Thomas took 4 fouls in the first quarter and put up 7 tough points inside. He recorded an assist on a pass to Legan which set up his first three of the night; West Adelaide’s import also putting up 7 points in the first quarter to give the Bearcats a 19-18 lead at the first change.
West Adelaide looked destined for top spot in the second quarter.
Blake Truslove got his team started with his trusty jumpshot, and then Legan followed up with a trademark four-point play; draining a contested three while drawing contact from Samuel Johns.
Tobias Dowdell found his way into the game with an 8-point quarter which included 3 offensive rebounds, while Southern’s passing offence seemed to be faltering after they turned the ball over six times in just over five minutes.
5 points from Greg Mays kept the Tigers in touch but West Adelaide held all the cards up 44-38 at halftime.
The home side kept the momentum flowing into the second half with Thomas draining a three on West Adelaide’s first possession after the break. 4 points from Dowdell and another deep three from Legan suddenly had the Bearcats up 56-45 mid way through the third quarter.
However, as if a switch had been flicked, Southern turned the game around in the blink of an eye.
The Tigers kept the Bearcats from scoring on 12 of their last 13 possessions in the third quarter, going on a stunning 2-18 run just before the final change and putting themselves up 58-63 with 10 minutes to play.
Coach MacLean says his side’s third quarter performance fell apart due to a lack of perimeter shooting.
“We started off alright we had 12 points in the first five minutes then we only had 2 (points) in the second,” says Coach MacLean.
“We shot 4 of 23 from the three-point line tonight, we really didn’t have a good night from three.
“But we felt we probably didn’t move the ball and move their defence well enough and get enough points in the paint.”
Jordan West gave the home fans some reassurance with a tough driving layup to start the fourth quarter, but the Bearcats could not quite get within striking distance despite threatening several times.
West Adelaide cut the margin to 3 points on four occasions, but every time the Tigers responded in a frustrating final quarter where the Bearcats could only muster 8 points.
Coach Maclean says his team’s defence broke down inside the paint allowing the Tigers to grab too many rebounds and second chance points.
“Tonight, especially in that third and fourth quarter we let them live in the paint a little bit too much,” says Coach MacLean.
“It’s always something we’re working on and looking at improving, we let them get hold of us.
“I thought we got as many (rebounds) as them tonight but Turnage got six (offensive rebounds) which is too many, and they probably got them at key moments as well.”
After points from Mays and Turnage extended the lead to 66-73 with just four minutes left, Coach MacLean subbed out his starters as any hopes of a seven-point win to take top spot were dashed.
After their best offensive performance of the year against South Adelaide the week before, the Bearcats crashed back down to earth with a season-low in both points (66) and assists (12).
Coach MacLean is clear on what caused the lack of offensive production.
“Settling for 1 on 1 jumpshots or 1 on 1 drives,” says Coach MacLean.
“9 turnovers is probably also a season-low but that says we weren’t trying to move the ball and make the right passes. If you have a lot of ball movement and you try to zip the ball you do turn it over as well.”
Despite the loss, the mood is upbeat in the Bearcats camp as they head into the 2018 finals looking to defend their title from last year.
Losing just before the finals series is not an unfamiliar feeling for most of West Adelaide’s players; the 2017 Bearcats were comprehensively beaten by North Adelaide 92-73 in round 18 last year.
The coaching staff also remains confident in their plan if they meet Southern again in finals.
“We don’t think the plan was wrong, we just felt the execution probably wasn’t correct, 77 (points) is what we want to keep them to,” says Coach MacLean.
“A lot of their points were off stuff where we didn’t execute the scout or we let them get the ball in positions of comfort for them.
“So we’re not unhappy with the plan, we’ll look at it again and tweak it again if we get to play them again.”
If West Adelaide can beat Norwood on Saturday, they will indeed face the Tigers again, although this time in Morphett Vale.