Hustle, smarts secure Buccs victory
“It’s a great win, but we know we can play better — we can shoot the ball better,” a humble Quadrio Earthmoving Buccaneers head coach Ray Evans said in the aftermath of yet another highly-sought victory for his side over play-off-calibre opposition.
Aside from holding the talent-laden Perth Redbacks at arm’s length throughout their 90-80 triumph at Activewest Stadium on Saturday night, hustle on the offensive and defensive ends was at post-season intensity.
Setting the pace of the game early for the Buccaneers was Earnest “EJ” Ross, who dropped 20 points in a meticulous first-quarter burst.
A man who knows how to deliver in big games at both college (for Auburn and Missouri Universities) and NBL level, Ross got the hot hand early offensively and torched the Redbacks’ defence.
Ross (30 points — 5/10 from the field, 4/9 for three, 8/10 from the free-throw line, eight total rebounds, four assists) sank three consecutive shots from beyond the arc in the opening two and a half minutes of the game, putting the visitors in trouble early.
However, the Redbacks gradually found their feet and tightened things up by the end of the quarter, largely because of the injection of former Buccs guard Jackson Hussey from the interchange bench.
Keen to put on a show against his old club, Hussey (18 points — 7/13 from the field, 1/1 from beyond the arc, 1/2 from the free-throw line, six total rebounds, three assists) put up seven points in his first two minutes on court.
The home side returned fire, with their willingness to drive to the hoop ensuring they went to the charity stripe regularly and inflated their lead into double-digit territory approaching the midway point.
After making four of his first five shots in the first half, Hussey and fellow former Buccs fan favourite Maurice “Mo” Barrow had their impacts on the game significantly blunted.
The reason? Superior hustle and mental application, led by Buccs skipper Mat Wundenberg.
Despite only 17 minutes of game time, Wundenberg (seven offensive rebounds, two defensive rebounds, three assists) made all of it count, putting his body on the line, contesting every play and providing excellent presence in the keyway.
Although the visitors had shot reasonably well (14/27 — 51 per cent) and had an even spread of scorers in the first half, they were often unable to generate enough defensive stops to stem the flow in the second period.
They would make one final run midway through the final quarter, pulling to within nine points, however clinical team play from Buccs US import Colter Lasher ensured fans would go home happy on a chilly evening in Geraldton.
Evans said he was really encouraged by the hustle and how Ross made an instant impact on the contest. “It was like a finals atmosphere out there — both teams were pretty intense,” he said.
“I was really pleased the way EJ came out. I think he showed what he is going to do for us in big games.
“Before the game, I was talking to the assistant coaches and I said ‘he looks really focused’, and you could see that when he hit the floor.
“He was really focused and got us off to a great start.
“I think everyone who hit the floor did their job, especially on the defensive end.
“To keep a talented team like this to 80 points really went a long way towards us winning the game.”
Aside from the blistering start from Ross, the Buccs struggled with their outside shooting, landing only four shots from their final 24 long-range attempts in the game, after Ross’s fourth successful effort with 5min.42sec. left in the first quarter.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well — we were 25 per cent from the three-point line,” Evans said. “I’d like to see what our three point percentage was in that last half, we might have only hit one, I think.
It’s a great win, but we know we can play better — we can shoot the ball better.”
Evans said focus would automatically shift to Saturday, with a mouthwatering top-of-the-table showdown against the Joondalup Wolves on the road awaiting his side.
“We come back on Monday and focus on Joondalup,” he said.
“They’ve only lost one game this year, which was against us up here, so I’m sure they’ll be ready to repay us a favour down there.
“But our guys are up for the challenge and we’ll go down there focused, play well and hopefully come away with the win.”
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