WITH four seconds left on the clock, trailing by a point, and with Ray Turner out of the game hurt, it could only mean one thing for the Willetton Tigers… it was Jay Bowie time.
Following the timeout, Bowie aggressively drove to the basket, got the foul call, and then iced the pair of clutch free-throws to defeat the Geraldton Buccaneers 95-94 in their top-of-the-table clash at Willetton Stadium on Sunday afternoon, helping the Tigers wrestle back first place on the SBL ladder from the Buccs in the process.
“No…” said Tigers coach Stephen Black when asked if he had any doubts about whether Bowie would make both shots. “He just comes through that often, and that play was probably the best we’ve executed all season.
“He’s a winner, and you back those guys at the line every time,” Black said.
It was the game everyone had been waiting to see. The league-leading Buccaneers (17-2), going against the second placed Tigers (17-3) in a heavyweight duel.
The Tigers were coming off a tense victory on Friday night over the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, while the Buccs were back on the court after handing a 30-point belting to the East Perth Eagles less than 24 hours earlier, and in the early going it looked like the extra night of rest helped the Tigers, as they raced to a 32-22 quarter-time lead.
From there, Willetton maintained a healthy lead for large stretches of the game and looked the better team throughout, and when Turner hit a slick turn-around jumper with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Tigers appeared to be home with an 81-65 lead.
However, the Buccs got their mojo back and made a surging late rally over the remaining minutes.
After point-guard Jackson Hussey slashed through the key and scored with only 36 seconds left, the Buccs had snatched the lead – their first of the game – leaving the Willetton crowd both stunned and anxious.
Ray Turner eased their nerves momentarily with a monster offensive rebound and put-back to get the lead back, but then star Buccs import Dwayne Benjamin got to the rim at the other end to put the Buccs back in front by one, setting the stage for Bowie’s heroics on the final play.
For the Buccs, Benjamin followed up his 42-point performance against East Perth on Saturday night by putting up another 30 points – including four triples – while fellow import Maurice Barrow added 27, including some big shots during the fourth quarter run to help the Buccs get back in it.
Jackson Hussey also had a strong game for the Buccs with 18 points and dishing out an impressive 14 assists.
Speaking afterwards, Benjamin was keeping a good sense of perspective despite the loss.
“Mixed feelings, I thought we should have won at the end, but we put ourselves in a tough position by not playing our best in the first quarter.
“You’re gonna lose some games, we’re not putting our head down, we’re not crying about it, we’re not worried about it really. It’s just another game that we played. We lost but we got better, we know we’re gonna get better in practice. ,” Benjamin said.
The Tigers next challenge is the much improved South West Slammers (12-8) in Eaton on Friday night.
Willetton Tigers Jay Bowie getting fouled on the final play that led to him hitting the winning free-throws.