The NBL1 Cobra Men have swept their Round 11 weekend double, dominating the Ringwood Hawks at home on Saturday night before upsetting the league leading Frankston Blues on the road on Sunday.
Recording a stunning come-from-behind victory over the Hawks eight days prior, the Cobras led for all but a minute on Saturday night, riding big games from Deng Deng, and Corey Jeffs and a spirited performance by Adi Tomada to cruise to an 88-76 victory.
The Cobras were rolling from the get-go against the Hawks, racing out to a 15 point lead midway through the second period and appeared headed for a blowout victory on home court. But with four minutes remaining in the half, Tomada went down with an ankle injury and was forced out of the game, and the Hawks seized the opportunity to attack as they closed the half on a 13-4 run to pull within 37-40 at the main break.
Tomada would return in the third, and though visibly hobbled, made some big plays down the stretch to help break the game back open for the Cobras. With their league-best defence dialling up the intensity coming out of the locker room, the Cobras held Ringwood to just 15 third quarter points, with a big end to the period seeing Kilsyth extend the lead to 13. And it was a masterclass in the fourth by Tomada, Deng and Ben Ursich to seal the Cobras big home win, with Deng and Ursich combining for 16 points in the final stanza while Tomada set the table with a number of mind-blowing assists, including a pair of spectacular alley-oops to Deng to send the crowd into a frenzy.
The lead never dropped below 10 in the final period as the Cobras recorded the season sweep over the neighbouring Hawks. Deng led Kilsyth with team-highs of 22 points and eight rebounds, Jeffs added 18 and three assists, Tomada played through pain to record 14 points, five assists and three steals, and Ursich chipped-in with 11 points off the bench.
While the Cobras were in a dogfight with the Hawks last time around, the added luxury of Deng played a major part in the team’s improved performance Saturday.
“The biggest adjustment we made was adding Deng Deng to the line up,” Cobras head coach Pete Godfrey said.
“Bringing a player in mid-season can go one of two ways. Thankfully for us it has gone the right way and Deng has stated that ‘it’s like I have been here the whole time.’”
Godfrey also pointed the his group’s excellent ball security on Saturday, with the Cobras turning the ball over a season-low five times.
“We know we have to defend well to win, and so that is the central plank of our game plan, and we know we have to take care of the basketball,” Godfrey added.
“Five turnovers for a 40 minute contest is a record for any team I have ever coached. Add that to a 50% assists to field goals made ratio and we were fairly happy with how the game played out.”
With Tomada out for Sunday’s matchup against the league leading Blues, the cards were stacked against the Cobras before tip-off as they faced a Frankston team who had looked almost unstoppable at home. But riding yet another stellar defensive performance and huge performances by Deng and Ursich, the shorthanded Cobras finished the weekend with an impressive 82-74 victory over the Blues.
With Frankston entering Sunday’s game averaging 106 points per game – including a 137 point explosion the week prior against Ringwood – the Cobras elite level defence was on full display, holding the Blues to their lowest scoring total at home in 2021 and just 30 second half points.
The Blues threatened to pull away coming out of halftime as they took a nine point lead early in the period, but Deng caught fire to lead a Cobras comeback with a spectacular second half scoring display. The Cobras new recruit got started with a dunk of a pretty feed from Jackson Brazier, then Deng and Brazier drilled back-to-back triples, followed by a slashing drive by Deng to cap a quick 10-0 run. With neither team able to gain any separation as they back and forth to end the third and early into the final period, the Cobras turned to a three point bombardment to break away late. Tied at 61 with six minutes remaining, Deng got things started with back-to-back threes, and after a pair of Blues baskets, Ursich and Mitch Dielemans joined the party from deep to give the Cobras a seven point lead. Frankston would close to within four on a pair of occasions, but huge baskets by Deng and Tim Lang and clutch free throws from Dielemans kept the Blues at bay as the Cobras recorded their most impressive win of the season.
Godfrey and co welcomed the challenge of facing the league leaders on the road without their star point guard, a matchup on paper that favoured the Blues but favoured the Cobras on heart, cohesiveness and will on the defensive end.
“League leading Frankston in Frankston, with at least five guys on their roster with NBL experience, and having belted Diamond Valley the night prior, and us without Adi Tomada – were we looking forward to playing Frankston? You bet we were,” Godfrey said.
“If you can’t get up for this type of contest, check your pulse.”
“More than any other game we have played this year, 40 minutes of defensive commitment had to be number one priority, and it was.”
Up to the challenge were Deng and Ursich, with the former finishing with a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds, while Ursich was a perfect five-for-five from deep en-route to a 17-point, 10-rebound double double. Dielemans continued to make the most of increased playing time, filling the void left by Tomada as he recorded 12 points and four assists, while Lang finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for his third double double of the season.
“Tim’s double double doesn’t reflect the full impact he had on the game, and Ben’s 5-for-5 was big,” Godfrey said about veterans Lang and Ursich.
“Jackson’s (Brazier) lock down D was huge, and Deng Deng had his second big game for the weekend, and we were very well led by Mitch for almost the full 40 minutes.”
Sunday’s statement win boosted the Cobras record to 8-4 on the season, placing them in a tie for fifth in the league standings. They hit the road for a showdown with the 9-4 Mt Gambier Pioneers, looking to reverse a close home loss to the Pioneers the week prior.
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