The Cockburn Cougars couldn’t quite complete the job to make it four straight wins on Friday night after a good start against the East Perth Eagles ahead of a crucial double-header to come in Round 13.
Cockburn came into the game in its best patch of form for the season having won the past three matches to be knocking on the door of the top eight despite having lost emerging forward Luke Phillips for the season and having been without Seva Chan for the past nine matches.
The Eagles were able to race out to a 12-point lead early but the Cougars fired back with an 11-0 scoring run and by quarter-time it was they who were leading 30-28.
Cockburn then threatened to run away with the contest in the second quarter leading by as much as 11 and still being in control 54-45 at the main break.
The Cougars remained in control for much of the second half too leading again by 11 during the third quarter, and still being 11 up in the fourth with minutes to play after a finish from Taj Benning after Josh Hunt forced the turnover on Jerami Grace.
However, Sebit Reath made a couple of buckets to bring East Perth’s deficit back to seven, and then Taylor Young brought the deficit back to five.
The Eagles then closed to within two when Young scored after another Cougars turnover. Justin King made it a two-point game and then Sebit Reath drained a three to put East Perth in front with 3:30 on the clock.
The lead continued to switch hands over the next couple of minutes but just when the Eagles had a chance to make it a two possession game, Benning’s back court pressure forced Young into an eight second violation.
But Benning missed a chance to tie scores up after that before Lee Roberts made two free-throws up the other end to make it a four-point game.
The Cougars had a late prayer when Benning was fouled and made the first. He deliberately missed the second and Cockburn competed enough for the offensive rebound to force it out of bounds off East Perth.
Field had a good look at a three that would have tied up scores, but it didn’t go and Courtney Alexander II’s putback left the Cougars a point short with the Eagles snatching a thriller.
Cougars coach Andrew Cooper was frustrated to not capitalise on controlling the game for the opening three quarters.
“Well it was just one that got away really,” Cooper said.
“I thought that we definitely were the better team for three quarters and once we turned to that last quarter I made it pretty clear in the three quarter-time break that the first few were going to be important for us, and we could close it out.
“Unfortunately we just sort of went cold offensively and went a bit stagnant, and slowed down our pace and played into their hands a bit. Credit to them, they executed on the offensive end but we still had plenty of chances and it was just one that got away I think.”
It will be a tough loss for the Cougars to stomach given the control of the game they had with Courtney Alexander II finishing with 26 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and two assists.
Taj Benning added 19 points, 13 boards, four assists and two steals, Gavin Field 18 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks, and Keegan Phillips 12 points, six boards, three assists and two steals before going off injured.
A loss like that on a Friday night with no other games for the weekends gave coach Cooper a bit too long to stew over it.
“It makes the weekend too long to be honest,” he said.
“It is tough and those are the sorts of games when you’re driving home and a lot of things go through your head as to what could have been done differently certainly from a coaching perspective as well as a playing one.
“But there’s only so much I can control on the players end but a lot of things go through my head about how I could have helped turn it around a bit.
“That’s the hard part and then having to watch it back isn’t a lot of fun either, but it’s just another chance for us to dig deep this weekend and fix a couple of things because we weren’t that far off the mark.
“If we made a few shots or foul shots down the stretch it might have been a different scenario so it’s definitely fixable that’s for sure.”
With the loss the Cougars now sit on a 6-9 record this season with games to finish against the Mandurah Magic, Perry Lakes Hawks, Perth Redbacks, Willetton Tigers, Goldfields Giants, South West Slammers and Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
The top eight is still within reach but Cooper knows only if they continue to win the majority of those games.
“I made it pretty clear to the playing group that we want to control our own destiny, and the best way to do that is to continue to win,” Cooper said.
“If we don’t take care of business on that end then it’s going to be a bit harder to manage and a couple of results went against us over the weekend, but if we keep winning games then we’ll be OK and hopefully will be able to sneak in.”