Tahjere McCall has inspired his Cairns side to a record-breaking performance as the Taipans powered to a 112-98 final-round NBL home win over their Queensland rivals Brisbane Bullets.
McCall racked up 42 points, the best individual score in the competition this season, and Cairns’ total in Saturday’s clash was the highest team tally of the 2021-22 NBL campaign.
American McCall also became the first player in the competition’s 40-minute game era to register at least 40 points and 10 assists.
A severely depleted seventh-placed Brisbane (10-18), who had just seven active players, led by 11 in both the first and second quarters at the Cairns Convention Centre stadium.
But with stars Lamar Patterson and Nathan Sobey among the many unavailable players, they lacked the depth to hold out the ninth-placed Taipans (9-19),who recorded their first 4-0 Sunshine Stoush season sweep over their intra-state rivals.
“It was a heck of a game but I’ve got to thank the guys around me, they made it real easy,” said McCall who is open to the idea of returning to Cairns next season.
He shot at 57 per cent from the field and added six rebounds, five steals and a block to a fantastic stats line.
“This is what Taj has meant for the team this entire season, we all jump on his back and sometimes he carries us through quarters and games and stretches,” Taipans’ coach Adam Forde said.
“He is a guy that you can build a team around, he would be our Bryce Cotton,” added Forde, who wants to improve his club’s shooting and one-on-one defence.
Forwards Majok Deng (30 points) and Keanu Pinder (17 points and eight rebounds) were other strong contributors for the Taipans, who took control in the third quarter and led by as much as 27 in the fourth.
Brisbane coach James Duncan praised his depleted squad for toughing out the game and scoring 37 in the final quarter, but also hinted at possible discontent among some of those who didn’t suit up for the game.
“We were down on numbers and obviously our guys got a little bit tired throughout the course of the game,” Duncan said.
“We had to deal with guys bring sick or being injured or deciding not to play, but that’s how it is in professional sports.”
Asked for clarification and more information about people deciding not to play, Duncan said: “No comment.”
The Bullets had five double-digit scorers with forward Robert Franks rounding off an impressive season with 30 points and 15 rebounds and Tanner Krebs supplying 20 points.
Franks said there was the potential for him to return to Brisbane, while Duncan said he will be looking to strengthen the rebounding and defensive areas.