The Perth Wildcats will miss the NBL finals for the first time since 1986 after falling at home to South East Melbourne in overtime, 102-100.
In the final game of the NBL regular season, the Wildcats faced a do-or-die clash with the Phoenix after Tasmania moved up to fourth place with a win over minor premiers Melbourne on Saturday.
Bryce Cotton had an opportunity to tie the game with just under 10 seconds remaining in OT, but his fade-away jumper bounced off the iron, stunning the Wildcats’ packed crowd at RAC Arena.
Their loss means the JackJumpers will play United in the semi-finals after Scott Roth’s side became the first since the Gold Coast Blaze in 2008 to qualify for the final four in their maiden season in the NBL.
“I want to thank the Red Army for sticking with us … and I’m sorry we didn’t meet your expectations for the season,” Wildcats coach Scott Morrison said.
“We won’t forget the support that you gave us and me personally, for giving me a chance. Things will be improved for next season. I can promise you that.”
Morrison also passed on his congratulations to the JackJumpers calling it a “pretty incredible achievement” making the finals in their inaugural season.
Prior to Sunday, Perth were 15-0 in games when they led at three quarter time, but the Phoenix played spoilers, matching them on every run.
Facing an 80-75 deficit late in the fourth after Kyle Adnam caught fire for the visitors, before Cotton (game high 28 points) finally found his range after struggling from beyond the arc all evening.
Cotton carved his way to the rim to tie the game at 90-apiece, before Xavier Munford’s (24 points) game winning mid-range shot rattled off the rim to send the game to five extra minutes.
Then came Zhou Qi.
With the Chinese big man fed possession after possession in the post, he got the better of Perth’s two interior defenders in Matthew Hodgson and Majok Majok.
Their only scores outside of the 216cm big man from there was a coast-to-coast layup from Munford and an erratic jumper to Mitch Creek whose ball bounced around and dropped with a blemish from the basketball Gods.
At 101-98, Cotton thought he’d brought them to within one with a free throw to come, but he was called for an offensive foul after using his left arm to hook around Munford.
Brandon Ashley then made one from two at the stripe before Cotton carved his way to a layup.
The Phoenix missed their final attempt but the reigning MVP couldn’t get his game-tying shot to fall for the home side.
While disappointed to be missing out on the post-season themselves, Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said their effort against the Wildcats would be one to look back on.
“We were up against some tremendous odds out there tonight and we overcame the odds. We’ve got something now that we’ll reflect upon, we’ll celebrate it,” he said.