The Forestville Eagles have put an end to West Adelaide’s 2018 season after a comfortable 82-93 win over the reigning premiers in Port Adelaide on Saturday.
With their season on the line, the Bearcats spent the whole night chasing from behind; unable to lead at any point in the game despite a fairly tight contest.
Forestville progress to face Norwood in a cut-throat preliminary final in Campbelltown this weekend, while West Adelaide will have seven months to lick their wounds and prepare for the 2019 season.
Daniel Johnson was the difference between the two sides. Only missing 8 seconds of game time, he put up 35 points at an unstoppable 69% from the field, in addition to 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
League-leading scorer Brendan Teys (26 pts, 5 rebs, 6 asts) played to his averages in a classy performance. Michael Harris (16 pts, 9 rebs, 2 stls) slipped through the cracks with all the attention on Johnson and Teys, while Jalen Richard (3 pts, 12 rebs, 3 asts) was a presence on the boards all night.
For the third week in a row, no Bearcat was able to reach the 20-point mark. Patrick Thomas (14 pts, 5 rebs, 9 asts) played a solid all-around game, while Tom Kubank (17 pts, 1 reb, 2 asts), Tobias Dowdell (14 pts, 7 rebs, 2 asts) and Jordan West (16 pts, 4 rebs, 1 ast) all put in respectable performances.
Despite his team going out in straight sets, Bearcats Coach Corey MacLean has a lot of positives to take from a 14-4 regular season.
“We can’t look at one, two or three games and say the season has been a failure,” Coach MacLean says.
“We had a very good regular season record we just weren’t good enough come playoff time, so we’ve all got to improve.”
Although the result did not go their way, the Bearcats had reason to be confident facing the Eagles, a side they had swept in the regular season.
In their last meeting in round 10, West Adelaide were able to come out on top 92-85 after keeping Teys to just 10 points.
But this game got off to an ominous start when Michael Harris swatted away Jordan West’s attempt at a layup on the opening possession. Galvanised by the block, the Eagles ran down the court and set up Teys for his first three of the game.
In a sign of things to come, Harris and Johnson got on the board next for the Eagles; the scoring trio of Teys, Harris and Johnson were responsible for 77 of Forestville’s 93 points.
Down 2-7 with the momentum against them, the Bearcats responded with some gritty points inside. J. West and Dowdell drew fouls to get to the line, while a tough inside shot from Thomas and a pull up three from Kubank brought West Adelaide within a point.
The home crowd were outraged when James Legan was called for a personal foul on a seemingly clean steal in transition; the referees called 6 fouls on the Bearcats in the first quarter and they would prove costly later in the game.
A couple of last-minute free throws from Eagles big Akol Deng gave Forestville a 19-22 edge at quarter time.
Forestville were red hot to start the second quarter, scoring on eight of their first ten possessions. Johnson doing the damage with 9 points as the Bearcats had no answer for his work in the post.
West Adelaide for the most part were able to keep up with Forestville’s deadly offence. 6 quick points from J. West and a gutsy piece of offensive rebounding from Dowdell meant the home side were able to weather the storm early in the second quarter.
But Forestville’s scoring trio would continue to apply enormous pressure on West Adelaide’s defence, and when Teys got to the rim after splitting a double team open with his ball handling, Coach MacLean had to call a timeout with the score getting out of hand at 33-46.
While the Eagles were scoring with remarkable precision and ease, the Bearcats were doing it the hard way. Straight after the timeout, Fabian Johnson missed a corner three but remarkably rebounded his own shot and finished the layup. Anthony Spadavecchia drained a three courtesy of an unlikely bank shot, and Thomas kept the home side in touch with a 5-point burst to end the first half.
With the score at 43-50 at halftime, the game turned into a real arm wrestle in the third quarter.
The game fluctuated between a 5 and 10 point lead for Forestville, with the Bearcats unable to produce the scoring run required to take over the game, mainly due to the extraordinary efforts of Johnson.
The 36ers big man drained 5 of his 6 shots for the quarter, most of them with a hand in his face and one of them completely off balance after an offensive rebound. Despite doing most of his work inside, his spatial awareness to step back into a tight corner three was one of the highlight plays of the night.
Coach MacLean says there was not much more his side could do to defend him.
“That’s probably the best Australian player in the NBL,” Coach MacLean says.
“We guarded him…we made him hit tough shots, I think out of the 16 (shots he made), I think a dozen of them were just tough.”
Despite Johnson proving seemingly impossible to guard, the Bearcats managed to win the third quarter and set up what appeared to be a grandstand finish with the sides only 5 points apart at three-quarter time.
But Teys put an immediate stop to any late momentum with a calm three on the first possession of the fourth quarter. While the Bearcats had done a relatively good job on Teys all night, he punished West Adelaide in the last 10 minutes with 12 crucial points.
Coach MacLean says his side did not execute well enough to keep Teys down for the whole game.
“We missed him off a couple of on-balls and he hit some shots late,” Coach MacLean says.
“He didn’t shoot a real high percentage but we probably didn’t execute well enough off every single on-ball, and he got a couple off of us.”
The Bearcats last glimmer of hope came when Legan drained a three from deep to cut the lead to 7 with a mere 2:31 left on the clock. After the Eagles called a timeout, they managed to regroup on defence and shut the Bearcats out for a crucial two minutes, Johnson sinking a wide-open three to seal it for the away side and end West Adelaide’s season.
It was a flat note for the Bearcats to finish on, as they only averaged a disappointing 74 points in their last three games of the season, a stark contrast to their regular season average of 90.
Coach MacLean says his team could not find the next gear that was required to get them over the line in finals.
“We didn’t have another level offensively,” Coach MacLean says
“When you’re more scouted and scrutinised from coaches we just didn’t have another level to score as efficiently as we did early in the season.”
Although 2018 ends on a disappointing note, Coach MacLean remains upbeat about his side’s capacity to improve for next season.
“You’ve got to learn from it; you don’t win championships every year,”
“We won one last year, and we probably weren’t as hardened as we were last year.
“Everyone has got to go away in the offseason and come back a better person, and a better basketball player and a little bit fitter and a little bit more ready to go and that’s from the coaching group down to the young guys that didn’t play.”
The result also marked the end of Legan and Dowdell’s time at West Adelaide. The former leading the league in three-point shooting and making the Premier League All-Star Five, while the latter averaged an impressive 16 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.
Coach MacLean is incredibly proud of the way the imports handled themselves both on and off the court this season
“They fitted in, especially off the court. That was one thing we spoke about in the changerooms, we’ve got a group that there’s no ego, there’s no personality clashes, everyone gets along with everyone, everyone enjoys each other’s company,” Coach MacLean says.
“There’s definite love within that group, they fly across the world don’t get a lot of money and still have to come out here, work and play basketball like everyone else.
“We appreciate that guys do that, and they were good for us this year.”