The Centre of Excellence men have caused a major upset, beating the previously undefeated Ballarat Miners to highlight Round 7 of the 2019 NBL1 season.
Facing the 7-0 Miners on the road, the CoE men found themselves trailing by 11 points at quarter-time.
However, they clawed their way back into the contest, making it a six-point game at the last change as they scored seven straight points going into the break.
The CoE kept the momentum going in the fourth quarter, making it an incredible 19-0 run with Josh Bannan (32 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) scoring eight of those points.
“This week’s team had more of an NBA Global Academy influence so we weren’t really sure what to expect,” said NBA Global Academy director Marty Clarke.
“Against good opposition, we looked a little intimidated early and played conservatively but in the second half we had more energy and confidence and Ballarat went a bit cold.
With young guys, when they get on a roll it can be hard to stop and scoring 19 in a row got us right back in the game.”
Ballarat were not done with, fighting back to move in front by two points with three minutes on the clock and then forcing overtime via Jerry Evans Jr.
The CoE held firm though and through a clutch basket from Tamuri Wigness (11 points, nine rebounds) in his season debut and five free-throws from Hyunjung Lee, they prevailed 80-77.
“Wigness is coming back from a slight injury and we’ve been careful with him due to some upcoming tournaments,” said Clarke.
“He played well, hit that big shot in overtime and just does some amazing things that aren’t teachable.”
Coming up against another top four team in the Nunawading Spectres on Sunday, the CoE were unable to pull off another upset as they fell 78-88.
There were positive signs though as five players scored in double-figures, led by Josh Kunen’s 12 and they out-scored the Spectres bench 30-5 thanks to 22 combined points from Wigness and Hunter Clarke.
“Nunawading are another experienced team like Ballarat,” said Clarke.
“We struggled with the size of Simon Conn and spent a lot of fouls on him but I still thought our guys played well and fought it out.
“Overall, it was a nice weekend and we played the right way.”
Another tough weekend for the CoE women saw them drop games to the Ballarat Rush (56-68) and Spectres (57-83), taking their record to 0-11 but the development and lessons that the athletes are receiving in NBL1 continues to prove invaluable.
“Our win/loss record, whilst not desired, is not of great importance to our bigger objective at the CoE which is to continue to develop future Opals and Boomers,” said Centre of Excellence women’s head coach, Kristen Veal.
“The in-game learnings against such quality teams and players has always been an important factor in the successful development of AIS/CoE athletes.”
Against the Rush, the CoE took a ten-point edge into half-time but could not stick with the home side after the main break.
“The team’s ability to stick to the game plan defensively was impressive. Offensively, we moved the ball well, played with tempo and got heat on the ring.
“But in the second half, Ballarat made some defensive adjustments which took away the early looks we were finding and we were unable to switch out of tempo mode.
“We need to continue to work on trusting and following the scout as well as improving our ability to contest perimeter shooters without giving up containment.”
Across the weekend, Lily Scanlon led all scorers with nine points per game, Jade Melbourne added eight points per game and Adelaide Fuller averaged 4.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Following a big week that saw her named in the Australian Gems selection squad for the Under-19 World Cup as well as the squad for the Under-17 Oceania Championships, Kelsey Rees also stood up against Nunawading, recording 14 points, a steal and two blocks.
“Kelsey had a good weekend, her form post the Under-18 Australian Junior Championships has jumped to another level,” said Veal.
“She is now playing with more poise and confidence which is allowing her work over the past 18 months and understanding of the game to shine through.
The CoE return to the floor in Round 8 for a triple-header against Diamond Valley Eagles on Friday night (women at 6pm, men at 8pm), Waverley Falcons on Saturday night (women at 6.30pm, men at 8.30pm) and NW Tasmania Thunder/Launceston Tornadoes on Sunday (women at 12pm, men at 2pm).