Shepparton Gators head into semi-finals

By Tyler Maher

With the season on the line, the Shepparton Gators produced one of the side’s most comprehensive performances of the year to remain alive in the Big V division one playoffs.

Facing Warrandyte, who was returning to the scene of a one-point win against the Gators at Shepparton Sports Stadium just a fortnight ago, the home side lifted in all aspects of the game to secure passage through to a three-match semi-final series against Keysborough and send the Venom packing in this campaign.

Led by one of the greatest individual performances in a knockout match Gators coach Leigh Bathman has seen at this level of basketball from American import Spencer Coleman (32 points and 27 rebounds), as well as riding the wave of a raucous home crowd baying for success, it was always going to be Shepparton’s night on Saturday.

The Gators began like a team on a mission and took a 19-point lead at the first break.

When Coleman sunk yet another field goal in the second minute of the second term to bring up a scorching double-double, the home side had extended its advantage to 22 points and looked comfortable across the court.

Old habits die hard though, and having lapsed regularly throughout the season the Gators again struggled to keep to the ascendency in the match.

Seemingly sensing a way back into the contest, the Venom lifted their intensity and reeled off a strong 20-4 run to drag the margin back to just six points inside the last two minutes of the quarter.

That the Gators managed to respond as a group before the half-time break spoke volumes for the head space they were in, and held them in good stead for the rest of the clash.

The nine-point lead the home side had at the main stoppage extended to 20 in scintillating fashion within minutes of the third stanza.

From there it was a procession for the Gators, with the Venom failing to draw within 10 points of the hosts for the rest of the match before eventually succumbing 92-66 when the final buzzer sounded.

‘‘I’m very proud of the commitment they showed for the entire week,’’ Bathman said.

‘‘We did a few things differently, but the buy-in was much greater from the guys this week, and I thought the performance from all the players was terrific.’’

Bathman acknowledged his side’s lapse in the second term, but was encouraged with the almost immediate response from the squad.

‘‘We had that little bit of a flat spot, which we’re prone to have, but we came out after half-time with an 11-0 run to really stamp our authority on the match,’’ he said.

‘‘Previously those dry spots have lingered for far too long, but we rectified it quickly this time.’’

Coleman added only three assists to his 32 points and 27 rebounds, but such was his presence that it felt like a much higher number.

‘‘That was one of the more outstanding individual performances, particularly in the rebound stakes and in a final at this standard of basketball, that I can ever remember seeing,’’ Bathman said.

‘‘By his own admission he’s been down on form and confidence the past couple of weeks, but he responded really well.’’

Fellow import Cameron Vines did not miss out on the party with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists of his own, while Nick Dodd (14 points and from outside the arc), Jake Cowling (16 points and five rebounds) and Matt Bartlett (six points and four assists) were also impressive.

Although a quick glance at the output of Shepparton’s bench only shows a total scoring contribution of five points, the sum of the performances of Tyrone Mohamed, Ian Wright, Fisto Bizima and Nathan Grace were much greater than that.

‘‘In the last few weeks we haven’t gotten much in terms of production from the bench,’’ Bathman said.

‘‘We put the challenge to them to do one or two things and make them count because when combined, that would be enough.

‘‘Production doesn’t mean just points either, it’s about rebounds, steals, not getting beaten by the man you’re defending or not reaching in and giving away a foul when the shot clock is running down.

‘‘When they came on the floor they did that and they were infectious, when they got near the ball the crowd really lifted because they want to see them do well too.’’

The influence of the big crowd was not lost on Bathman either and he hoped there were even more supporters in attendance this coming Saturday night when the Cougars come to town.

‘‘The crowd was fantastic,’’ Bathman said.

‘‘It was huge, but the players still have to perform and provide something for them to cheer about, and they did that from the get go.

‘‘There was a really good club feel for the entire night, and that’s the absolute minimum we expect. They went out there and played for the betterment of all and sacrificed their own games at times to get us the win.

‘‘We’re at home again on Saturday night for game one of the semi-final series and we hope to have the stadium buzzing again.’’