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Round 4 Cougars Wrap – Men

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The Cockburn Cougars will be hoping it is third time’s a charm heading south on a Friday night this coming week after the men went down to the Mandurah Magic who received three monster performances.

The first game the Cougars men had lost in the 2024 NBL1 West season was two weeks earlier on the road to the South West Slammers and then this past Friday it was a road trip to Mandurah to face the Magic.

In between and Cockburn had scored home victories against the Magic and Kalamunda Eastern Suns, but it wasn’t to be on Friday in Mandurah with the home team winning 105-95 on the back of a combined 80 points from Joel Murray, Michael Durr and Lachlan Bertram.

The Magic led 28-25 by quarter-time and then despite opening up a seven-point lead in the second period, Cockburn worked its way on top with 31 points and went into the main break leading 56-53.

Mandurah turned the tide in the third quarter going on an 8-0 scoring run and ending up outscoring Cockburn 31 points to 14 to lead by as much as 14 points.

That lead for the Magic got out to as much as 18 points in the fourth quarter as well and they would go on to win by 10.

Josh Hunt is in career-best form to start the season for Cockburn and against one of his former teams, he delivered 26 points, three rebounds and two assists with 12/14 free-throw shooting.

Gavin Field added 19 points on what will be his last game in Mandurah in his final season while Rhys Vague added 13 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, and Nathan Pond nine points and six rebounds.

Kyle Armour also finished with eight points, four rebounds and two assists, Seva Chan seven points, four assists, three boards and two steals, Noah Stewart four points and two rebounds, Demetris Morant four points and six boards, Jordan Lee three points, and Riley Bensemann two points.

Reflecting on the game over the weekend and Clayden was still frustrated by Saturday morning, but watching back he was starting to find what worked and what didn’t with an eye to preparing to head to Rockingham to play the unbeaten Flames this coming Friday night.

“It was a pretty frustrating Friday night after the game and Saturday morning, and then I watched the game back on Saturday night where you pick up a few little things along the way,” Clayden said.

“That kind of makes you analyse it a bit differently when you’re not as emotionally attached. They’ve got two very good imports at the moment and Utley keeps it very simple for them, and they did what they needed to do and made shots that they needed to make.

“We didn’t really push them out of anything they wanted to do and we allowed them to dictate to us which was probably the most frustrating thing. They were the first team that’s really done that to us so that was probably frustrating from that point of view from us.”

While the Magic were firing offensively led by the 32 points from Joel Murray along with 26 from Michael Durr and 22 from Lachlan Bertram, Clayden wants to see more cohesiveness from his team offensively despite managing to put up 95 points.

“Then the struggles continued offensively. We’ve just got guys that aren’t confident at the moment and aren’t doing what we think they should be able to do,” he said.

“We just have to keep working to find that rhythm somewhere, but to finally have 12 of our top 14 players on the court was a positive so to have a fully squad fit was nice for the first time. Hopefully we can build some momentum from that.”

The brightest aspect of the opening month of the season for the Cougars has without question been the continued growth of Josh Hunt.

He has started the season in the best form of his 94-game NBL1 career averaging 19.5 points and 4.0 rebounds a game, and Clayden couldn’t be more impressed with the growth he’s showing.

“Josh has been doing great things. We spoke in the pre-season about his goals and we have sat down several times to work on that, and he was a bit late getting into pre-season and catching up on a few things,” Clayden said.

“But we couldn’t have asked for much more from him in three of the four games that he’s played, and he kept us in it a lot of the time on Friday night.

“Probably the most important thing for me was that offensively what he is doing even if his decision-making is still a work in progress. Then his defence is getting better and when Murray was going in the second quarter, he walked over and asked for a crack on him.

“A lot of people call Josh a bad defender, but that’s definitely not the case and he did a really good job to quell what was becoming a bit of a juggernaut there. He stepped up and took on the challenge for us.”

Cougars centre Morant was back into the team on Friday night following a calf injury and while it hasn’t been the ideal start to his NBL1 career, there are enough signs for Clayden of what he will be able to provide.

When you factor in that the two games he’s played have been on the road on a Friday night to the Slammers and Magic with the first with him fresh off the plane and the second coming back from an injured calf, and it hasn’t been easy circumstances for him.

Clayden, though, remains confident of what he will bring and is looking forward to that starting on Friday in Rockingham once he can finally get an uninterrupted week under his belt.

“The reality is the guy has done a week’s worth of training. He pretty much got here and the jetlag absolutely knocked him about,” Clayden said.

“While that’s no excuse, it did make his first week a nightmare and then he went down to Bunbury on a Friday night and was running around on two hours’ sleep.

“Then he hurt his calf and spent the next seven days trying to get that right. You saw glimpses of what he could do and there were a couple of examples of what this is going to be, and we have to learn to play with that.

“We have to work out how to best use Demetris and there were a couple of possessions even defensively where he’s 6’9 and guarding guards so we’re pretty excited about what he can be.

“He’s never going to be a 20-10 guy, he’s a complementary piece to Rhys and Gav, and hopefully give our guards a bit of space with his on-ball action and be a bit of a rim threat. We just have to figure out how to unlock all of that.”

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