The NBL1 Cobra Men have secured a top four regular season finish with a 94-86 home win over the Dandenong Rangers on Saturday night.
With just seven players available and Tohi Smith-Milner the only active big on the roster, the Cobras rode a sizzling shooting performance from beyond the arc on Saturday night. The Cobras drained a season-best 17 three-pointers against Dandenong, utilising their small ball approach to stretch the much larger Rangers on the defensive end, with their red-hot shooting fuelling a game-breaking third quarter run.
Trailing by five early in the third period, the Cobras quickly caught fire from deep, draining six triples in a four minute stretch to spark an 18-3 run. The Cobras hot streak saw them take an eight point lead into the final stanza, and they would hold on late thanks to some timely buckets from Smith-Milner and Sean Macdonald to guarantee a top-four finish.
With the Rangers mounting a late comeback, Macdonald and Smith-Milner combined for six big points in crunch time – two tough layups by Macdonald and a thunderous dunk by Smith-Milner – to keep Dandenong at bay, helping the Cobras overcome a significant size disadvantage to record another gritty, undermanned win — much to the delight of head coach Justin Schueller.
“We keep going into games undermanned and keep finding a way. I love this group’s resolve.”
The Cobras deadly perimeter shooting created plenty of space for Smith-Milner to go to work on Saturday, with the New Zealand big man bouncing back from an injury scare to dial in one of his most impressive performances of the 2019 season. Smith-Milner finished with a season-high 28 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists on Saturday, scoring on a variety of finishes inside – including a trio of dunks -and going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Isaac Turner was outstanding once again, dropping 23 points in the win; Macdonald continued his efficient perimeter play, recording 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists; Michael Wearne added 10 point and three assists; and Peter Hooley returned from a three-game absence to finish with nine points and six assists off the bench.
Schueller was impressed with the across the board contributions – particularly Smith-Milner – from his group on Saturday night, echoing his words following Round 14 — when everyone contributes, the Cobras win.
“Everyone contributed, that was the key,” Schueller added.
“Some in scoring, some by being asked to guard bigger guys and others by just playing their role. Whatever it was, everyone did their part.”
“Obviously Tohi was huge; he has found another level in his game which is great to see. He’s leading us right now.”
The Cobras wrapped-up the NBL1’s fourth seed for the postseason, finishing with a 12-8 regular season record. The top-four finish guarantees the Cobras a double chance in the NBL1 Finals, and they will tip-off their postseason campaign this Saturday night on the road against the top ranked Ballarat Miners at 7.30pm. The Miners defeated Kilsyth in their lone matchup back in Round 6, but Schueller believes that the Cobras are peaking at the right time and will rise to the challenge on the road this Saturday.
“Ballarat deserved the number one seed; they’ve been the best all year,” Schueller said about the Miners.
“But we feel we are playing some of our best basketball now and look forward to the road ahead.”
That road ahead will be a tough one for the Cobras, who continue to battle a number of ongoing injuries and absences. But while it’s been a challenging period for the Cobras – they’ve had just seven or eight players available for the past five weeks – Schueller believes that adversity has served his team well as they enter the postseason.
“We actually haven’t had our full team play together yet, so I think we’ve been able to have multiple guys step up throughout the season which puts us in a strong position at this time of year,” Schueller said.
“When we shoot the ball the way we know we can and lock in defensively, we know we can beat anyone In this comp.”
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