Jackies on the march while Phoenix sent packing

THE NBL kicked off its first ever play-in tournament on Thursday night, with a pair of blockbuster games taking place to help determine the last two spots in the finals seeing the Tasmania JackJumpers move on to the semi-final while SEM Phoenix ended their postseason dream.

The night kicked off at John Cain Arena, where the Phoenix hosted the Perth Wildcats in a do-or-die elimination clash, with the loser eliminated from finals contention, while the winner would advance to face the losing side in the following clash.

The Wildcats showed no signs of fatigue after a fairytale entrance to the play-in last week, matching it with the high-pace play of the refreshed Phoenix. Perth silenced the crowd on the road in a contest that went down to the final minute of play.

After a back-and-forth affair for the first three quarters, the Phoenix looked to have made the matchwinning run through Mitch Creek‘s strong play, but the Wildcats were not dead and buried just yet.

Bryce Cotton and TaShawn Thomas combined for some excellent play when the game was there to be won, and overcame a deficit mid-way through the term to take the lead late. Although a late three to Trey Kell III gave the home side a chance, Perth held on to keep its season alive with a thrilling win.

As expected, Cotton bounced back from last week’s quiet performance to be the match’s highest scorer, finishing with 26 points and looking back at his best. He was creating separation off the dribble and nailing some big buckets when the game needed a hero. In the first half, Brady Manek was the man of the moment, seemingly knocking down everything from behind the arc to finish with six threes for the match.

Creek was the star of the show for the Phoenix, nailing nine of his 16 attempts on his way to 24 points, while Gary Browne had 20 points and five rebounds.

In the second match of the night, the JackJumpers took their gritty, physical game north to Cairns Convention Centre, and defeated the Cairns Taipans by eight points.

Tasmania came out and delivered a dominant opening quarter, outscoring the Taipans 25-16 and making an early statement on the road, despite missing star guard Josh Magette. As the good sides do, the Taipans fought back to take the lead later in the match, despite being down by double-digits for much of the contest.

However, some late heroics from Isaac White and a serious dagger from Milton Doyle sealed the result, with the JackJumpers now bound for the semi-final, where they will take on the New Zealand Breakers.

Doyle was the man of the hour in Tasmania’s win, pouring in a game-high 25 points thanks to five baskets from behind the arc. Fresh off a nod on the All-NBL First Team, the high-scoring guard showed why he is a class above many in the league, and should play a key role against the Breakers.

With Magette missing, the JackJumpers needed someone to step up, and that ended up being emerging guard White. He had a crucial 18 points and four rebounds on 7/10 shooting from the field, slashing his way inside and scoring inside the paint with ease.

The Taipans rallied behind the performance of Tahjere McCall, who once again drove his way inside and conjured some crafty baskets. He had 24 points and six rebounds in a valiant performance.

The Taipans will now face the Wildcats in an elimination match on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the semi-finals, while game one of the New Zealand-Tasmania series will take place following that match.

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