The Cockburn Cougars were left to rue another golden opportunity to build momentum this season but the fact Courtney Alexander II put in a dominant performance and there was a lot to like, the feelings are positive about moving forward.
The Cougars men were fresh off recording their first win of the NBL1 West season against the Lakeside Lightning the previous Saturday night ahead of hosting the Joondalup Wolves at Wally Hagan Stadium.
It was a Wolves team who arrived on a four-game winning streak and having beaten the Willetton Tigers the previous night with import Quinton Dove brilliant with 43 points and CJ Turnage 30, but the Cougars were right up for the challenge.
The added challenge for the Cougars was attempting to beat the Wolves for the first time since 2017 and snapping a nine-game losing streak, but it was never going to be easy.
The Cougars did start impressively, though, with 27 points to 25 in the first quarter and another 34 to 31 in the second to lead 61-56 at half-time.
Cockburn’s lead did grow to 12 points in the third quarter but Joondalup worked back into the contest even with the Cougars still up six at three quarter-time.
The Cougars were still up by four points three minutes into the fourth period after a dunk from Courtney Alexander II, but the Wolves soon hit the front on a three-point bomb from Mathiang Muo.
A three-point play from Dove soon extended the Wolves lead but the Cougars weren’t going away a triple from six-time club MVP Gavin Field put them back up one with two minutes to play.
Dove hit another dunk to restore the lead for the Wolves but he then got a tech foul and fouled out as a result with just under two minutes on the clock.
However, his teammates stepped up and a dagger three from Bryan Michaels with just over a minute to play proved the dagger blow.
Cockburn’s last chance might well have been when Luke Phillips fumbled the ball while going up for a wide open dunk with the margin three.
From there the Wolves were able to secure the five-point despite Alexander producing his best game of the season for the Cougars with 33 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals on 14/18 shooting.
Gavin Field added 19 points, four rebounds and four assists, Taj Benning 15 points, four assists and three boards, and Kieran Berry 12 points, four rebounds and four assists.
For Cougars coach Andrew Cooper, there was a lot to like but that made it more frustrating to not quite get over the line.
“We were good in patches again and put ourselves in a position to win the game, which is what our goal is every week,” Cooper said.
“We’ve just got to mature and develop further so that we can close games out, that’s sort of where we’re at at the moment.
“I feel like there’s definitely improvement as we’ve seen from a lot of the key players, it’s just now about eliminating a lot of the little errors to allow teams to hang around and be close enough to beat us. We need to learn to be a little bit more ruthless and close games out.”
The outstanding performance from Alexander on the back of his match-winning last seven minutes the previous week against Lakeside was a great positive for the Cougars, and Cooper hopes he can take the confidence from that to keep it going.
“We had a conversation during the week and the thing I said to Courtney, and this is no secret because everyone else heard it, was that when he tries and tries hard, he’s actually really good,” he said.
“I think that’s a mixture of frustration and just trying to find his way a bit, but on Saturday night he just did the simple things really well and you saw what he can produce.
“And I still think he’s got another 20, 25 per cent in him. You don’t play at the G-League level unless you’ve got something about you and I think we’re starting to see it which is good for us.”
It wouldn’t have taken much for a couple of things to fall the way of the Cougars for the result to be different on Saturday night. While Cooper wouldn’t mind a bit of a change in luck, he knows sometimes you have to make your own luck too.
“We feel like things just haven’t gone our way a little bit this year,” Cooper said.
“That’s not making excuses because we haven’t played to the level we want either, but there’s also when things go bad they seem to go bad all across the board and that’s a little bit of luck not going away.
“It would be nice to have some of it go our way, but we also need to create that ourselves and if we can be a bit more ruthless, and cut out some of those errors when we’re up by 10 or 12, and need to close the game out and stop the silly mistakes at both ends of the floor, our fortunes can turn around. If we can be better at those things then we shouldn’t have to rely on luck eventually anyway.”
Given the fact the Cougars were up 12 in the third quarter, Cooper can’t help but feel upon reflection that it was another great missed opportunity against a quality opponent.
“We were up by 12 there at one point and we just made some poor decisions on the offensive end, a couple of bad breakdowns on the defensive end and that is the difference between a top four team, and a bottom eight team,” Cooper said.
“There’s not a lot of gap between the teams this year and unless we can fix those problems, it’s going to be tough for us to play finals that’s for sure.”