The weekend’s NBL1 Central action saw two clutch match winning shots on the same night in Adelaide.
Woodville’s Zach de Wit and Sturt’s Kylee Smith both stole wins for their sides in the dying seconds. Both were incredible displays of work ethic, and staying calm under pressure.
For Woodville, beating South Adelaide was the win they needed to keep their year alive. The Warriors may seem to be in a dire position in ninth, but the Central men’s division is building towards one of the tightest play-off races of any NBL1 competition.
With just three games left to play for the Warriors against quality opponents, anything could happen.
Three games separate the Warriors and the third placed Southern Tigers. Desperation was needed as the buzzer ticked down.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, 22-year-old de Wit talked through making the final play after consecutive time outs.
“That play specifically, we had sort of two different options we were looking at,” de Wit explained.
“Firstly I set a back screen for Joe [Jackson] to try and catch an alley oop or something to tie the game. That wasn’t going to be an option because South Adelaide stuck Owen Hulland on the sideline there and there’s not much room down at Marion for the person passing it in.
“I had to make sure I got really good separation off the screen set for me… [Alex] Mudronja did a really good job of beating me to the spot. Luckily I could sort of fake him out and got him in the air before I got the shot off.
“I think we were pretty happy with how it turned out. We sort of drew it up specifically for that, and I was able to execute which was great.”
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The initial reaction to the shot was anything but happy for de Wit, however.
A feeling of dread washed over him as he threw what looked like an ugly bank shot from the three point line. As it sailed through the air, he watched the magic happen.
“My first thought was ‘I’ve completely missed everything there,’ de Wit laughed.
“I could slowly see it go to the sweet spot on the back board and I was like ‘oh my god.’ You can see straight away in my reaction, I just started jumping up and down.
“I ran straight over to Riley [Meldrum] because he was the one who passed it to me. It was just a bit of a crazy moment for me. I’m not really sure what I was thinking, I was just really happy that we got the win and I was able to do it really.”
Just moments earlier, the pressure of the occasion got to the 19-year-old Meldrum.
Slowly assessing his options outside the key, Meldrum fumbled and in a split second, the Panthers regained possession and took back the lead in the dying stages.
Coach Scott Whitmore called another time out, the squad gathering to discuss how to execute the final play of the game.
It was veteran American import Julian Jacobs who was most vocal on the sidelines in the final huddle, backing Meldrum in to keep his confidence.
“We had faith in Riley, that’s why we ran that play,” de Wit explained.
“We fully back Riley to go again, it was just unfortunate… I think he bounced the ball off his own leg and then it bounced off the back of Codey Ellison and then they went down and scored.
“Julian Jacobs… he wasn’t playing, but he said ‘we’ve still got a chance, we’ve still got a second left. The game’s not over yet.’ We just had to move on from that, there’s no point on dwelling on one mistake, because games have so many different mistakes. No point just dwelling on one of them.”
Woodville was scheduled to play the West Adelaide Bearcats on Saturday. With the announcement of a South Australian lockdown, details surrounding the weekend’s games are yet to be confirmed.
The women’s game
Just hours after de Wit shot the match-winner, the Sturt Sabres women’s team took the court against the Forestville Eagles at Springvale Secondary College.
Forestville got off to a strong start, leading 37-26 at half time. Sturt would chip away at the margin, edging closer and closer as the clock wore on.
Young forward Kayla Matthews shot a hope and pray ball from the three point line, which proceeded to bounce off the ring and straight into the hands of the Eagles.
Completely opposite to how de Wit nailed his buzzer beater as a set play, Sturt’s Kylee Smith went off pure adrenaline, taking the game into her own hands.
Collecting the rebound and working in conjuction with teammate Nicola Matthews, Smith coolly converted the lay up to win the game.
“I do not count any team I’m on out until the buzzer goes,” Smith told The Inner Sanctum.
“We were down the whole entire game, and I just kept encouraging my team. We’ve just got to keep chipping away… they’re a really tough team. They hit some tough shots.
“All I remember is the last second shot went up for them and I was like ‘I’m getting this rebound.’ No one was necessarily near me, and I had that mindset like ‘we’ve got to go.’
“I got the ball, dribbling up the court, I knew we were up [by] one. We didn’t need to do anything crazy.
“I’m a guard by nature, so I was playing a little bit out of position. I’m not a post player, so I start dribbling the ball which is fine, I know that, but I don’t normally do this on this team. We all have our roles, so in a last second play you’re not supposed to do what you don’t practice.
“I’m dribbling up the entire court, and I’m like ‘I need to give it up.’ I want it back, but I need to give it up… could take it one on one, but the mentality is you’re not supposed to do that.
“I gave the ball up, went to go set a screen, and I paused for a second. I think for that pause is when everyone went to Nicola [Matthews], and then I just slipped. When I turned and no one was on me, I guess [there was] some shock, and then I turned and made the shot.
“A wide open lay up is harder than it seems!”
It was the finishing touch to what was an incredible game for Smith, putting up a double-double shooting 23 points and making 13 rebounds.
The American had every faith in her teammate as she entered the key all alone, trusting Matthews to hit her up perfectly, which she did.
“Nicola is a facilitator, and as soon as I gave the ball up, I knew I wanted it back as well,” Smith said.
“If she had a good shot, I knew she would either make the pass or the shot. When I slip, I can’t see if anyone’s behind me. But I know Nicola is quick with it, so when I slipped I definitely the faith.
“She made a few passes earlier in the game right on the money to me, over the top of the defence. She does that a lot, so it was nothing new.
“End of shot clock scenarios you’re not supposed to freak out, you’re supposed to stay cool, calm and collected and do what you normally do.
“I think that’s where we went right as a team.”
Sitting second on the ladder, Sturt come up against Norwood, South Adelaide and West Adelaide on their way to finals. Smith and her Sabres teammates will be hoping they can catch the top of the table Southern Tigers, just one win ahead of them.
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