74 days after that night in the Philippines, the Boomers were finally able to get back on court.
Doha was the site, as Australia breezed to a 95-43 victory in the opening contest of the second stage of World Cup qualification. The win moved the Boomers to 6-1 in the qualifying period, a record that has them tentatively sitting on top of the Group F standings.
Many of the members of the squad from that infamous night in FIBA basketball returned, including Nathan Sobey, the victim of some of the most vicious of hits in that fracas. Via the Sydney Morning Herald, assistant coach Luc Longley spoke about the lasting effects of that night, and the importance of getting back on track against Qatar.
“It took a few of them a while to recover from the idea of the Philippines thing rather than the actual physical thing – the idea they had let the game down or had done something really naughty,” Longley said.
One got the sense they had indeed been desperately waiting for this night, as they burst out of the gates to double up their opponents 24-12 in the first quarter, with fast paced transition possessions opening up driving lanes and opportunities for good looks beyond the arc.
With a spattering of Australian fans among the small crowd in Doha, the game degenerated into a scrappy track meet through the second quarter. It was hardly pretty, but the Boomers were able to add on to their lead and head to the main break with a 40-24 lead. Mitch McCarron lead all scorers with 8 points for the Aussies, while Tanguy Alban H Ngombo equalled that tally down the other end.
In a continuation of what began to develop through the first half, it became increasingly evident that constant ball movement was the recipe for success from Andrej Lemanis’ squad, as the Qatar defense was often found to be slow to react and out of position.
Nick Kay is able to turn defense into offense as the Boomers start to blow this one out.
— Kane Pitman (@mkebucksaus) September 13, 2018
Through consistent defensive pressure and relentless offense, the game came to a decisive turn in the third quarter, as the Boomers held Qatar to a miserly 3 points. By the time the end of the third period rolled around, the lead had ballooned out to 43 points. With the game well and truly in hand, the Aussies were able to share the load, with five players reaching double figures.
Jesse Wagstaff led all scorers with 18 points, including 3-for-5 from 3-point territory, while his Perth Wildcats teammate Nick Kay chipped in with 12. Todd Blanchfield received the start in his first appearance for the Boomers in World Cup qualification, draining two nothing but net triples in a promising sign for fans of the Illawarra Hawks.
It’s hard to say how much you can actually take from a blowout like this, with Qatar just as much to blame for their demise as the Aussies. With 21 turnovers and shooting just 27.1 percent from the field, it was a dirty night for the home side, who now fall to 2-4 in their campaign.
Despite the lopsided scoreline, Lemanis was clearly impressed with his squad’s ability to maintain their intensity throughout, particularly on the defensive end.
“I was really impressed with our defensive intent,” Lemanis said via Fox Sports.
“We were very disruptive but the most important thing was our intent. It’s a long way to fly for a game so there was always a chance we could come out sluggish but the guys did a great job having the right mindset.
“The mentality to defend and to have each other’s backs was there and we were able to build pressure from it.”
It will be a quick turnaround for the Aussies, who are slated to take on the 3-4 Kazakstan in Bendigo on Monday night. The win against Qatar leaves them on 13 points and tied on top of Group F with Iran.
It’s expected that the squad will remain the same for the second game in the window, though Chris Goulding will be available to play after serving his one game suspension from the Philippines incident.
It was a breeze for Aussies, as was to be expected. But perhaps the most important aspect was getting the chance to push the memories of that night in the Philippines to back of their mind and just get back to doing what they do best. Play basketball.
Up next: Australia vs. Kazakhstan at Bendigo Stadium, Victoria @ 7pm.