The Cockburn Cougars men suffered another heartbreaking loss on Friday night but there was plenty to like from what they did against the Perth Redbacks that they translated into a thumping home win over the East Perth Eagles on Sunday.
The Cougars opened their double-header Round 8 NBL1 West weekend with an impressive showing in a lot of ways on Friday at Belmont Oasis against a Redbacks team fresh off handing the Rockingham Flames their first loss in almost a year last week.
The Cougars did a lot of right before just coming up short 82-78 before Cockburn got back to Wally Hagan Stadium on Sunday to delivered the emphatic performance to beat the Eagles 116-86 to sit at 3-7 by the end of Round 8.
Starting on Friday night, the Redbacks came into the game fresh off a stunning performance last Saturday night to hand the Rockingham Flames their first loss in almost a year but the Cougars were also off their second win of the season against the South West Slammers by 38 points.
It turned out to be a fascinating contest and by quarter-time the Cougars were holding a narrow one-point lead before the Redbacks scored 24 points to 17 in the second period to be leading 39-33 at the half-time interval.
Cockburn wasn’t going away, though, and managed 27 points to 20 in the third quarter to head into the fourth leading 60-59.
Then just when the Redbacks had appeared to do enough leading by six after a crafty finish from Bryton Hobbs with just over a minute to go, Taj Benning made a couple of dazzling plays for the Cougars.
The first was getting a lucky roll on a corner three-pointer to make it a two-point game and then he forced the back court turnover on Tevin Jackson to give Cockburn the chance to level scores or go ahead.
However, point guard Kieran Berry lost control of the ball, Hobbs swooped on it and ran down most of the clock racing up the other end. Eventually he was fouled and made both, and the Redbacks held on for the four-point win.
Courtney Alexander II continued his impressive form for Cockburn with 15 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block on just 5/9 shooting and 5/8 at the line.
Taj Benning had a strong showing too with 22 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals with Luke Phillips contributing 17 points and five boards, Kieran Berry nine points, and Keegan Phillips seven points and seven rebounds.
Coach Andrew Cooper was frustrated with another one slipping away, but couldn’t fault his team’s effort.
“I was really happy with the way we played on Friday. Outcome aside, we did a lot of things right and we were seeing growth within the group from everybody,” Cooper said.
“We did make a few errors that were unforced ones and maybe some errors based on a lack of maturity, but in the end all in all it was a pretty positive output from the entire group against a tough opponent.”
Then on Sunday, East Perth had no answers for Cockburn’s import duo Courtney Alexander II and Taj Benning with the Cougars already leading 32-19 by quarter-time.
Cockburn’s lead grew to 16 points in the second quarter and then blew out to 24 in the third and 33 in the fourth before settling at 30 at the final buzzer.
Alexander ended up with another 28 points, 12 rebounds and three assists for Cockburn on 12/16 shooting with Benning terrific too with 24 points and four assists on 9/11 shooting.
Josh Hunt also had 16 points, three rebounds and three assists with Luke Phillips contributing 15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, Gavin Field 15 points, seven assists and five boards, Keegan Phillips 10 points, six rebounds and three assists, and Kieran Berry eight points and five assists.
There was plenty for coach Cooper to like in the performance.
“I thought we came out with a really good mindset early and defensively we were certainly a lot better in the first quarter,” Cooper said.
“We let it go a little bit in the second but then we only gave up 36 in the second half.
“That’s the space we want to play in more from that end of the floor and we’re confident with the talent that we’ve got, and the knowledge of the system that we’ve got on offence that we can generally score enough points to beat most teams.
“We showed that once we get rolling we’re pretty tough to stop on the offensive end.”
The Cougars offence was impressive with those 116 points on Sunday, but it was holding both the Redbacks and Eagles to a combined 168 that made for the impressive weekend to show Cockburn’s growth defensively in recent weeks.
That included the effort of Benning to limit Justin King to seven points on 2/10 shooting but the efforts of Luke and Keegan Phillips were crucial too.
“It more falls back to the imports and KB as our new players who are just starting to understand the system, understanding where they need to be at the right times and it’s not to underestimate the Phillips boys and what they are giving us off the bench,” Cooper said.
“Keegan came into the starting line-up against East Perth just to change it up a little bit with match ups and both of their energy defensive has been outstanding. They probably don’t get the recognition on the defensive end but they deserve it.
“Courtney was our Player of the Round, but Taj against East Perth held Justin King to seven points and contributed on the offensive end so from that perspective, that’s why Taj came to us and what we wanted from him. He’s now starting to show what he can do at both ends.”