NBL News: Cotton canes Hawks, DJ on song as Kings topple Tassie, Humphries, sponsor slam Pride-less Taipans – The Roar

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It took a Herculean effort and a season-high points haul from Bryce Cotton as Perth Wildcats outlasted Illawarra in an offensive clinic to keep their play-off aspirations alive with a 106-86 win at RAC Arena.
Cotton played all but two minutes of Friday’s must-win clash with the Wildcats going into the Perth fixture clinging to the sixth and final spot in the play-in tournament on percentage. 
He registered a season-high 40 points, hit seven of his 11 three-point attempts and was an enormous plus 39 for his side.
Wildcats coach John Rillie says Cotton’s scoring is impeccable but it’s his work in other aspects on the floor that should earn him MVP consideration again.
“He’s been playing at a very high level all year, our team results have just not been at a high level. So I think that’s where it gets lost in the wash,” Rillie said.
“The scoring speaks for itself and it’s easy to notice that stuff. But you talk about the assists, the rebounding, defending, all those other things that go into it that get overlooked because he’s a phenomenal scorer. There’s a lot in his game that gets overlooked.”
With the win, Perth now move to 14-11 for the season and ahead of Tasmania into fifth following their loss to Sydney in Friday’s earlier game.
But it didn’t come easily in front of a packed house in Perth as Illawarra’s Tyler Harvey (23 points) duelled all game with Cotton, before the latter finally got a rest in the dying moments after Brady Manek emphatically shut the result out with a dunk through contact.
Illawarra simply ran out of gas in the final quarter and could only muster eight points with their defence set on denying Cotton the ball.
Harvey led his side in scoring with Sam Froling adding 21 points but their high-percentage shooting faded quickly in the second half as the Hawks remain bottom of the ladder with just three wins this season.
“I thought we battled. It sort of got away from us towards the end of the third and the fourth,” Hawks coach Jacob Jackomas said.
“I’m sure there’s some things we can work on and some things that let us down. But, I didn’t think we quit even though it did stretch out a bit at the end.”
The hosts were made to pay in the opening half particularly in the paint as Illawarra crashed the glass and leveraged their size on their way to a 22-17 rebound count.
Perth are last in the league in defensive rebounding and rebounds per game, but continued to find Cotton’s hot hand as his three pointer before halftime narrowed the deficit to five points.
Both teams exchanged the lead until Cotton’s tough layup at the rim midway through the third term which inspired a 11-4 run to close the quarter.
With Perth starting the fourth on another short six to zero run, Illawarra’s attempts stopped falling and the hosts’ lead grew to 20 at the final horn.
Cotton and his Wildcats teammates travel to Tasmania for a big clash with the JackJumpers on Sunday that will likely determine the inaugural play-in tournament seedings.
The Sydney Kings have spiced up the battle for spots in the NBL post-season after overcoming a slow start to down Tasmania JackJumpers 91-77 in Hobart behind Dejan Vasiljevic’s hot shooting.
Following a two-game slide, Chase Buford’s competition leaders rallied from a sluggish opening quarter to stun the home crowd and outscore their opposition 61-29 in the quarters either side of halftime as the JackJumpers’ early energy and scoring dried up.
The JackJumpers entered Friday night’s contest with a 14-11 record and fourth-placed on the ladder, needing a win in front of their fans to all-but secure a spot in the post-season.
But when Vasiljevic (24 points) caught fire early in the second term, their 11-point margin was quickly erased and defending champions Sydney maintained complete control for the remainder to move to 18-7 for the season.
In his first game at MyState Bank Arena since breaking the hearts of JackJumpers fans with a game-winner in game two of the grand final series, Vasiljevic missed just four shots and hit five of his eight attempts from three-point range. 
Coach Buford said his side benefited from pushing the pace and transition play that disrupted Tasmania’s defensive sets. 
“From the first quarter right up until about the last three or four minutes we were just hard to handle in transition,” he said. 
“Tassie is a team that they want to force you to turn the ball over, they want to make you make mistakes and get up the floor and naturally when you do that, you’re going to leave space behind to go exploit and we did that really well.”
Tasmania will need to rebound quickly with a vitally important game against Perth on Sunday in hopes of returning to the playoffs after making the decider last year. 
Scott Roth’s side face Illawarra to finish their season next week as they currently vie for play-in seeding spots with the New Zealand Breakers, South East Melbourne, Perth and Melbourne United. 
A shot clock issue delayed the beginning of the match but it did not hinder Tasmania’s defensive intensity in the opening term, forcing nine turnovers and limiting the Kings to just five made shots.
Kings star Xavier Cooks had two fouls in two minutes and was forced to sit early with Tasmania’s seven offensive rebounds in the opening term leading to second chance opportunities.
But they could only hit one of their nine three-point attempts to take a 25-14 lead at quarter time.
Sydney then completely flipped the switch and rectified their turnover issues, not giving up the ball once and outscoring Tasmania 37-14 heading into the main break.
Vasiljevic caught fire from behind the arc to begin their run and when Sydney took the lead at 39-38, they scored easy transition buckets through the eyes-up play of Derrick Walton Jr (16 points).
Tasmania outscored Sydney 23-17 in the final quarter but the damage was done as only Isaac White and Rashard Kelly tallied double figures for the hosts.
Isaac Humphries has expressed his disappointment at Cairns’ decision not to wear jerseys celebrating the NBL’s inaugural pride round while the club’s major sponsor has also condemned the move.
Vice-chancellor and president of naming-rights sponsor CQUniversity Nick Klomp confirmed he was not consulted before the team’s late decision not to wear the themed uniform, featuring a small rainbow-coloured logo, in Wednesday’s loss to South East Melbourne Phoenix.
Taipans coach Adam Forde insisted the club supported the pride round concept but argued they were protecting the playing group from abuse and “vilification” after reports surfaced of disinclination to wear the uniform on religious grounds.
The team plays two more games during pride round – in Cairns on Saturday and Monday – and it is understood the club have yet to decide what uniform they will wear. 
Basketball is for everyone. https://t.co/pID7wLhCYi
The call has been met with harsh criticism in some circles, with Swinburne University sports innovation expert Ryan Storr labelling it a “kick in the face” and “one of the worst attempts at PR and comms I have seen related to LGBTIQ+ inclusion”.
Melbourne United forward Humphries, the league’s first active openly gay player, revealed the mental health struggles he had endured while coming to terms with his sexuality in an emotional address to teammates last November.
He told ESPN he was disappointed by the community-owned Taipans’ stance and that “each of us needs to ask ourselves: what kind of courage did we display when our leadership moment arrived?”.
Klomp joined the critics on Friday, confirming he only learned of the decision when a club statement was released shortly before the game.
“As major sponsor of the Cairns Taipans, CQUniversity does not agree with the Taipans’ decision not to wear the pride jersey,” he said.
The CQUniversity Cairns Taipans share this message on behalf of the playing group. pic.twitter.com/i11zdfyfbj
“I spoke briefly to Taipans management on Wednesday night, with a view to engaging in more in-depth discussions with the club in the coming days.”
The university has sponsored Cairns’ only national sporting team since 2012 and been naming-rights sponsor since 2014. “At CQUniversity, inclusiveness is one of our core values,” Klomp said. 
“We strive every day to ensure our campuses and online environments are safe spaces for all people, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or religious beliefs.
“I was therefore delighted to see the NBL join the ranks of other sporting codes this week in hosting an inaugural pride round.”
The NBL said the round was designed to “promote, celebrate and give thanks to the LGBTQ community, while showcasing basketball as a sport striving to provide a safe, healthy and accessible environment for all”.
(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
Teams were given access to awareness training and an option to wear a themed jersey during the round.
Taipans coach Forde attempted to explain the club’s intentions after Wednesday’s defeat before shutting down further questions, including those directed at player Ben Ayre.
“We support the NBL’s initiative and the message of what this round represents; individuality, unity and love, right?” Forde, who was wearing a pride badge during the game, said.
“And we weren’t unfortunately recipients of it, for some unknown reason.”
Humphries told ESPN, “When it comes to inclusion, I will always stand up and speak out when needed for my sport, for my community, and I’m disappointed for my LGBTQ+ family of athletes and coaches who live silently in the closet”.
“If we are going to move forward with true equality, equity and inclusion in sport for LGBTQ+ athletes, we have to start by getting honest. We have to acknowledge there is a problem,” he said.
Brisbane Bullets head coach Greg Vanderjagt says once police investigations are complete the NBL club will conduct its own inquiry into the incident that left Harry Froling with a fractured skull.
Froling is in a stable condition at a Brisbane hospital after a suspected punch to the head left him unconscious on a Wollongong street. 
The incident took place at around 2am on Sunday after the Bullets’ defeat of the Hawks on Saturday.
The forward was admitted to a Wollongong hospital but he later discharged himself to catch a flight back to Brisbane with the team. 
He then visited a Brisbane hospital and scans reportedly confirmed a fractured skull and bleed on the brain that required surgery.
I appreciate all the messages in regards to my circumstances. It’s a scary thing, and I appreciate the love and support. Especially from my team mates former coaches and family ❤️
A 19-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday afternoon after turning himself in at Wollongong’s police station.
Vanderjagt says Froling and his family have the club’s full support and they will start an internal investigation at the appropriate time.
“The club will conduct their own investigation when the time is right and put everything together and take the appropriate course of action in terms of how we manage the group and how we manage those situations on the road moving forward,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“It’s something that is real and we certainly don’t sweep it under the table and just ignore it. 
“But at this point in time there’s not too much else to say on that because it is a police matter. 
“The police are conducting their investigation and we need to be respectful of that and also respectful of Harry and his family at this time.”
The New Zealand Breakers’ push for a top-two and semi-final NBL finish has continued with a dominant 99-71 win over Brisbane.
The result kept the Breakers’ stellar away record in tact as the regular season nears completion.
Jarrell Brantley paved the way on an efficient scoring night at Nissan Arena after registering 30 points in his previous match against Sydney.
He and Barry Brown Jr, who was a game-time decision on Thursday, were too much for a Brisbane outfit chasing their fourth win on the trot after a recent purple patch of form.
Brantley had 22 points, missing just three of his 11 shots, three assists, two steals and a block for a 26 plus/minus, while Brown Jr tallied 14 points off the bench, and Dererk Pardon added 17 points and 10 boards. 
New Zealand hit 11 of their 26 attempts from three-point range, with four coming consecutively early in the third term to balloon their lead out to 25. 
They are now one loss behind Cairns (16-9) on the NBL ladder with three games remaining against Melbourne United (home), Illawarra (away) and Brisbane (away).
A top-two ladder finish means an automatic semi-final berth and avoids a third versus fourth match-up in the NBL’s inaugural play-in tournament.
The Breakers will fancy their chances in all three of their remaining clashes, with the best away record in the competition – nine wins and three losses, as well as winning six of their 13 home games this season.
“Road dogs,” Breakers coach Mody Maor said with a smile about their success away from home.
“We’re pushing to win the next game. If that’s enough to make it to the top two, that’d be fantastic. If it’s enough to make it to three or four and make the playoffs, it’d be fantastic.
“For us to play basketball in February and meaningful games and compete is everything we wanted, so we’re really looking forward to finishing the job and hopefully we get a shot.” 
Brisbane showed their intent early, attacking the paint through switches and mismatches on Aron Baynes, and led by as many as seven points in the first term before the big man went to the bench.
New Zealand capitalised and upped their intensity defending their hoop and forced seven turnovers to take a 22-20 margin into the first break.

Those turnovers would lead to 16 points for the visitors in the first half as Brown Jr caught fire in the second term following a momentum-shifting block by Brantley.
A chase-down swat on Tyler Johnson’s lay-up quickly led to a Cam Gliddon transition three-pointer after Brisbane narrowed the margin to five, but that would be as close as they’d come.
New Zealand leveraged Brantley’s swagger to blow the lead out to 15 at the main break, before the visitors held their opponents to just 31 points in the second half.
New Zealand’s bench outscored Brisbane 33 to seven as the Breakers cruised home for their 15th win of the season.
South East Melbourne Phoenix continue to find ways to win with their season on the line after defeating Cairns Taipans 85-80 to record their third victory on the trot and maintain their place inside the NBL’s top six.
A run of 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s crucial clash at Melbourne’s State Basketball Centre saw the Phoenix grind out their 15th win of the season and inch closer towards securing a place in the league’s inaugural Play-In Tournament.
South East Melbourne fought back from a 10-point deficit in the opening quarter to edge ahead 44-43 at half-time and appeared to snatch control of the game with a flying start to the third quarter, but the visitors fought back to set up a thrilling finish.
Cairns held a three-point lead midway through the final period but a combination of careless ballhandling and desperate Phoenix defence resulted in six Taipans turnovers in a horror two-minute stretch as the home side built a decisive 81-71 advantage.
Mitch Creek paced the Phoenix with 21 points, Allan Williams added 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Trey Kell III earned the praise of coach Simon Mitchell after stepping up in the absence of injured swingman Ryan Broekhoff with a 17-point haul.
“It was really important for him to hunt his offence a little bit more and that’s the one thing (Broekhoff) has been doing wonderfully well the last probably five games,” Mitchell said about the American-born forward’s impact on the game.
“He has found ways to become a scorer instead of a shooter and hunting ways to get on the basket.”
The result sees South East Melbourne (15-12) move into fifth spot ahead of Perth (13-11) and Melbourne United (14-12) with the opportunity to lock in a Play-In berth with a victory over ladder-leaders Sydney on Sunday.
Cairns took advantage of early foul trouble for Williams as they skipped out to a 24-14 lead, DJ Hogg sparking the Taipans on his way to 10 first-quarter points while Ben Ayre’s disruptive defence caused frustrations for the home side.
But South East Melbourne prevented Cairns from scoring in the final two minutes of the opening term to trim the margin to five points and Gary Browne added seven points early in the second quarter to help the Phoenix grab their first lead of the game.
The Taipans recovered from a 10-point hole in the third quarter but lost star big man Keanu Pinder to a nasty eye injury before unravelling at a vital stage of the final stanza.
While Cairns (16-9) remain in second spot on the ladder, the defeat opens the door for New Zealand (14-10) to challenge for the guaranteed semi-final place alongside the defending champion Kings.

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