Studs and Duds: Round 16

At the conclusion of each round, NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria lets us know who made the grade and who deserves a little shade.



Illawarra Hawks

The Hawks were the big winners this week as they grabbed back-to-back victories over fellow finals contenders.

This is a team that’s been up and down over the course of the season but, right now – in the push and shove of the race to the finals – they’re really starting to put it together. In fact, Brian Goorjian’s men have claimed victory in seven of their last nine games and this week’s wins were particularly impressive.

It started at home on Thursday where they piled on 103 points as they tore up South East Melbourne’s leaky D. It was the most points scored by the Hawks with Goorjian as their coach and it helped them hold on against the fast-finishing Phoenix.

From there, Illawarra went down to Tassie and grabbed revenge on a JackJumpers squad that had given them plenty of problems. That performance was particularly impressive as the Hawks played with all kinds of energy and created easy offence from their lockdown D.

“Tonight was probably, all the way around, our best team effort,” Goorjian noted postgame.

“We’re playing games that matter and our character and the culture of our organisation is starting to grow.”

What’s going to be interesting is how the Hawks handle their tough end-of-season schedule. Their final seven games will see them play Melbourne twice, Brisbane twice and Sydney twice as well as a clash with Perth in the Jungle. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.

Duop Reath (Illawarra Hawks)

Before we move on, let’s throw some love towards a couple of Hawks who were particularly influential.

First up is Reath, who was a force on the interior this week as he served up back-to-back double-doubles. Illawarra’s marquee big man put up 22 and 12 against the Phoenix and then backed that up with 16 and 11 in the win over Tassie.

That’s more like it, big fella!

I mean, Reath is too much of a talent – too big and too strong – to be watching other guys clean the glass. Unfortunately, that’s been the reality across much of the season with the 6-foot-11 centre entering Round 16 ranked fifteenth for rebounds per game. That number’s even lower when you only consider defensive boards, with Reath ranking 22nd in the comp on the defensive glass, grabbing 4.1 per game. He’s better than that and, as we saw this week, he’s a dominant force when he makes a concerted effort to get on the glass.



Antonius Cleveland (Illawarra Hawks)

One guy who always plays with the requisite intensity is Cleveland.

That was on display again this week, as Illawarra’s high-energy wing joined Reath in powering his team across the line.

Down in Tassie, he kept that same energy after the buzzer when he celebrated in a way that drew the ire of Jackies coach Scott Roth.

More on that in a moment, though, as Cleveland’s game-changing play deserves top billing for now. I just love the way he goes about it. Defensively, ‘Goorj’ used him to make life difficult for Xavier Munford on Thursday and then flipped him between Josh Magette and Clint Steindl as they shut down the Ants. Down the other end, he just finds ways to have a positive impact. You don’t need to run plays for him; he’s an explosive force in transition, he picks his spots in the half-court and he finds extra baskets by crashing the offensive glass.

Across the two games, Cleveland averaged 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 60 percent from the floor.

As for those postgame antics in Launnie, I can totally understand why Roth would feel like he was being mocked. Thankfully, cooler heads (eventually) prevailed. 

Bryce Cotton & Vic Law (Perth Wildcats)

Another week, another spectacular display from the league’s most dynamic duo.

This time it was 51 combined points from Cotton (25) and Law (26), with Vic also grabbing 11 boards and Bryce adding 6 assists. They’re just too much to handle right now.

With these two firing on all cylinders, the Wildcats have now won six in a row and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Especially with home games the rest of the way and a power move set to be executed by the team’s front office. 

Melbourne United

It was Melbourne’s depth that was the story this week, with ten United players scoring at least 6 points as they ran over the 36ers.

With Caleb Agada missing the game due to COVID protocols, that depth was tested early when Matthew Dellavedova went off with an ankle injury and Chris Goulding grabbed for his hammy.

If that was the exam, Melbourne’s roster passed with flying colours as guys like DP Zac Triplett, veteran Brad Newley and seldom-used reserve Dion Prewster all stepped up to play important roles.

In the end, United reached triple-figures with no single player scoring more than 15. That’s pretty darn impressive.

“There were real positives about increasing our depth a little bit more with the challenges that we had,” head coach Dean Vickerman said.

“(We had) good contributions from a lot of people today.”

Jarell Martin (Sydney Kings)

There was a lot to like about Sydney again this week as they covered for the absence of Xavier Cooks (again!) and extended their winning streak to eight.

Jaylen Adams continued to make great reads, Dejan Vasiljevic and Ian Clark ticked the scoreboard over, while Makur Maker and Tom Vodanovich played key minutes at the four.

But it was Jarell Martin who was the Kings’ most influential guy, as he torched the Phoenix for 24 points on a red-hot 77 percent shooting from the field.

“Jarell was terrific,” Kings coach Chase Buford said.

“He hardly missed a shot. He did so many things. He battled as the only big guy down there amongst the trees a lot of the night. 

“(He was) super impressive. I’m proud of the way he played, proud of the way he competed on defence… just an excellent night form Jarell, all the way around.” 

Next up for the Kings? A trip to the wild, wild west.

Adam Forde (Cairns Taipans)

Speaking of guys who hardly missed… Forde might have a future in the NBL’s Replay Centre when his coaching days are over, after catching fire from the sidelines over the past few weeks.

‘Fordey’ nailed three straight Coaches Challenges on Sunday in Brisbane, becoming the first suit in NBL history to land three in one game. That run took him to a record eight in a row, before over-confidence got the better of him and a heat check broke the streak.




South East Melbourne Phoenix

Round 16 offered a golden opportunity for the Phoenix to stamp their authority over the finals race and, well, they failed to seize it.

Entering the round on the back of consecutive fourth quarter collapses, this week’s Ls make it four on the trot for last year’s semi-finalists – all at the hands of fellow playoff contenders.

That’s not good and, what makes matters worse, is precisely what head coach Simon Mitchell explained when he spoke to the media yesterday.

“A lot of where we’re falling short is in areas of toughness,” the Phoenix coach said.

He’s right. 

The toughness to slide your feet and contain the ball. Tyler Harvey sliced them apart off the bounce on Thursday night.

The toughness to block out and clean the defensive glass. Duop Reath and Sam Froling beasted them on the boards in that game.

And the mental toughness to execute down the stretch. We all saw what happened in crunch time against Sydney. Heck, even in the ‘Gong the Phoenix failed to foul when they were down 4 with 13 seconds remaining – opening the door for the Hawks to seal it at the rim.

On an individual level, Xavier Munford was terrific against the Kings as he put up a game-high 26. And while Zhou Qi had some issues defensively this week, he was unstoppable down low in Wollongong where he had an NBL career high 25. 

In addition, there were certainly positives to take out of Saturday’s effort as they competed harder than the previous game. 

Here’s the other positive for Phoenix fans: the schedule is about to work in your favour. Sure, this week’s travel will be taxing but only two of SEM’s remaining eight games are against teams currently above them. 

I know, I know… there’s no easy game in the NBL. But the Phoenix have gone 8-1 so far against the teams currently below them. If they continue that form, they’ll win enough games to make it.

Brisbane Bullets

Let’s start with some words of wisdom from Bullets head coach James Duncan.

“Everybody has an opinion, but actions are the truth.” 

I think there’s something in that for all of us, don’t you?

Seriously though, Brisbane came out flaaaaat in their match-up with Cairns this week. After scoring one of, if not the fastest bucket in NBL history, the Bullets gave the Taipans everything they wanted in the Sunshine Stoush as they fell behind by 23 inside the opening term.

They fought back, of course, but it was too big a hole to dig out of as their Queensland rivals claimed a 3-0 sweep of the season series.

“Our actions this evening were not acceptable, in my opinion,” Duncan added.

“We have to be better, collectively as a group.”

The next chance for that will come this Thursday against the Breakers.

The views on this page are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBL, its Clubs or partners.



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