The NBL1 Cobra Men have split their Indigenous Round doubleheader, recording a spectacular road victory over the Nunawading Spectres on Saturday night before falling short on Sunday to the Frankston Blues at home.
The Cobras were at their scintillating best on Saturday night, riding a spectacular second half performance by Isaac Turner and huge double-double from Tohi Smith-Milner to down the Spectres, 87-82. It was the Cobras second win over the Spectres in the past three weeks; one of their most impressive results of the 2019 season as they took down a full-strength Nunawading team despite having just eight available players.
Entering the weekend with just two available bigs – Smith-Milner and Chris Patton – the Cobras relied heavily on a small-ball, three guard lineup throughout, with Turner, Sean MacDonald and Michael Wearne coming alive in the second half to lead Kilsyth to a key late season win. Leading by four at intermission, Turner erupted for a 21 point second half, with 15 of those coming in an electric third quarter stretch to give the Cobras a double-digit lead. MacDonald and Wearne came to the aide of Turner in a big way late, with the trio combining for 21 fourth quarter points to keep the Spectres at bay and secure the Cobras eleventh win of the season.
“Any win against Nunawading on their home floor at full strength is a great result,” Cobras head coach Justin Schueller said.
“I’m really proud of the guys and how we went about it on Saturday; it was a full group effort and a great win for the club.”
Turner finished Saturday night with a game-high 26 points, Wearne recorded 13 points and four assists, and MacDonald added 12 points and four assists to round out an ultra-impressive performance by the Cobras guards. They weren’t the only Cobras to came up big, though, as Smith-Milner and Patton thoroughly outplayed the Spectres elite front court duo of Simon Conn and Dain Swetalla on the interior. Smith-Milner (18 points, 18 rebounds) and Patton (12 points, five rebounds) limited Conn and Swetalla to just 18 points on 7-for-22 shooting – well below their combined season average of 36 points per game – while Felix von Hofe overcame a quiet night offensively to pull down a season-best 11 rebounds.
“Tohi was huge with his 18 and 18 and Isaac is in great form at the moment,” Schueller said.
Schueller was particularly impressed with his groups ability to overcome absence and injury once again, backing up last week’s tough road win over the NW Tasmania Thunder with an equally-impressive win on Saturday.
“We have been through a challenging patch with guys away and injuries, but to have the guys step up and make no excuses – it was a great result,” Schueller added.
“It has been the case when we win this season – we had contributions from all.”
The Cobras magic ended on Sunday, though, with an early injury to Smith-Milner and tired legs on the tail end of their weekend double seeing them fall short to Frankston at home, 58-93 on Sunday.
Smith-Milner went down with what appeared to initially be a serious knee injury, and with Patton still hobbled by a bothersome hip, the Cobras were forced to roll out arguably the smallest lineup in recent SEABL/NBL1 history for much of Sunday’s game. With von Hofe and Ben Ursich spending extended minutes at the centre position, and backup point guard MacDonald playing the four-spot, Kilsyth was unable to contain the red-hot Blues, who made great use of their Goliath-esque size advantage inside to punish the Cobras in the early going.
With the Cobras small-ball lineup relying heavily on perimeter jumpers – jumpers that weren’t falling early on – the Blues were able to get the early jump, running out to a 23 point quarter time lead; one they would not relinquish.
Turner finished with a game-high 28 points in defeat, while Wearne was the only other Cobra to finish in double-figures, adding 11 points. Patton battled through injury to finish with eight points and eight rebounds, while Ursich and von Hofe were solid on the boards, recording for 17 rebounds on Sunday.
“Unfortunately Sunday we didn’t reproduce Saturday’s effort,” Schueller said.
“The boys battled, but we lost our way with execution due to playing guys out of position and never recovered from the first quarter.”
Of greater concern than the loss was Smith-Milner’s injury, with the big man falling to the ground after taking an inadvertent knock to the knee less than two minutes into Sunday’s contest. But much to the delight of Smith-Milner, Schueller, and Cobra fans, the New Zealand native was cleared of any significant structural damage and aims to return to the court this weekend.
“Tohi’s injury hurt us in a number of ways, and the hole was too big for us on the end of our back to back weekend against a quality side,” Schueller said.
“The good news is that Tohi looks to be clear of any major damage and we are positive that he will be right to go against Dandenong this weekend.”
The Cobras will square-off against the Dandenong Rangers this Saturday at home in their 2019 regular season finale. At 11-8, Kilsyth currently sit in fifth position in the NBL1 standings, and a win – coupled with a Geelong loss – would see the Cobras jump into fourth and secure a double-chance come playoff time. Conversely, Schueller’s group could drop to as low as seventh, making Saturday’s game a must-win to give the Cobras a favourable run for the postseason.
“We love that our destiny is in our hands on where we will finish, and we can’t wait for the challenge on Saturday,” Schueller added.
The Cobras/Rangers doubleheader showdown tips off at 5.30pm with the Women, followed by the Men at 7.30pm. All Kilsyth Junior Domestic Players (under 18) who wear their club gear will receive FREE ENTRY to both games on Saturday night.
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