NBL22: South East Melbourne Phoenix defeat Perth Wildcats, Bryce Cotton zero points in first half

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South East Melbourne’s defence produced an NBL rarity for Perth star Bryce Cotton as the Phoenix held off a late onslaught thanks to Mitch Creek and Kyle Adnam.

The Phoenix looked to have unlocked the key to shutting down the triple MVP superstar, holding him scoreless in the first half — one of only six times that’s happened in his glittering career.

They picked him up full court, trapped him in the half court and forced him to give the ball up, daring the other Wildcats to beat them as Kiwi defensive dynamo Izayah Le’Afa locked in.

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Cotton’s first shot was an airball three. His second rimmed out. His third only just kissed the rim.

Cotton continues to fight a battle with a troublesome thumb injury, but this effort came from

a guy who had just dropped back-to-back 30-point games for the first time in his career.

“You don’t ever expect to have someone of his calibre at zero points but, having said that, it’s job half done at halftime,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said.

“You know the storm’s coming with Bryce. He’s the best player to ever lace up boots in the league and I think it’s a huge tip of the hat, to especially Izayah Le’Afa, but our whole team, just the attention they put into him.”

He was right, the storm came. Cotton’s first bucket arrived with 6.13 to go in the third — a step back three — and, after the Phoenix had carried a 14-point lead into the long break, the margin was just four with one to go.

As Vic Law monstered with 22 points and nine rebounds, Cotton came alive with 15 points in the second half and, when he found Todd Blanchfield in the corner with 1.29 to go in the game, the scores were tied at 80.

But this Phoenix team is made of tough stuff. Kyle Adnam took over in the last with 13 of his game-high 24 and made four clutch free throws down the stretch to walk away with an 86-80 win.

Andrew Bogut wrote a column in Saturday’s News Corp papers, condemning the Phoenix to be an unlucky fifth on the ladder and miss the playoffs. He had concerns over big man Zhou Qi’s ability to show and recover on defence. To be fair to the NBA champion, Qi did get caught in no man’s land a couple of times, but his take looks a brave one, given the way the Phoenix held off the Wildcats’ late onslaught.

The Phoenix put their struggles from deep behind them, punching in eight threes in the first half and 11 for the game, with a spread of eight scorers that will please Mitchell.

Mitch Creek had a brilliant second half, hitting clutch shots and going to work with 22 points — 16 of those after the long break.

The Phoenix, who remain second, will get another good block of training in before visiting Adelaide to take on the 36ers Friday and then come home for a Sunday date with Illawarra. The Wildcats head south to Tasmania Monday night to face off with the JackJumpers on a short turnaround.

Glitch in the matrix

The teams hadn’t quite played two-and-a-half minutes when Qi began pointing at the shot clock above the Wildcats’ hoop. Instead of displaying the 24-second clock and time remaining in the game, it looked more like some of the code out of The Matrix movies. It forced a break of around five minutes while it was recalibrated — the Wildcats began shooting on the rim during the intermission. Those issues weren’t over, it happened again with 2.50 to go in the first, ensuring a very long quarter.

Among the trees

The Qi-Matt Hodgson big guy battle was an enjoyable one — when the 211cm Wildcat could stay on the floor. Both men had their moments, Qi blocking a couple of shots in the first quarter and throwing one down in the second, while Hodgson had a couple of massive dunks of his own, before he had to sit with two fouls and then used his delicate touch around the hoops with a couple of nifty finishes in the post. But a third foul forced him from the court again.

Vale Jack Bendat

A nice touch from South East Melbourne pre-game, using a moment’s silence to honour Wildcats saviour Dr Jack Bendat, who died during the week, aged 96. Bendat purchased the franchise in 2006, saving it from financial difficulties and the team would go on to win six NBL championships under his stewardship. He sold the Wildcats last year.

SCOREBOARD

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 86-80 PERTH WILDCATS

Venue: John Cain Arena

Crowd: 3606

PHOENIX

Adnam: 24 points, 4 assists

Creek: 22 points

Le’Afa: 12 points, 4 assists

Broekhoff: 7 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals

WILDCATS

Law: 22 points, 9 rebounds

Cotton: 15 points, 5 assists

Originally published as NBL22: South East Melbourne Phoenix defeat Perth Wildcats


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