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.