NBL 2014/15 Round 13: Cairns escape in reptile rumble no. 3

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In a game that saw the Taipans trail by 9 points at quarter time and the lead change hands 11 times in the second half, Cairns have escaped with a 79-75 victory over the Townsville Crocodiles.

The win was the Taipans’ third straight over the Crocs this season and moves them into second spot on the ladder. Meanwhile, Townsville have fallen just short of a sweep of Round 13 that would have seen them draw level on 7 wins with Sydney and Adelaide.

Having scored just 13 points the last time these sides met, Brian Conklin almost pulled the Crocs over the line, recording a season high 33 points on 12-23 shooting with 11 rebounds. He scored 13 in the final term, giving the home side a 7 point lead with just over seven minutes remaining.

From there, Cam Tragardh, who had been relatively quiet until the final stages, took over the match. He had 11 for the quarter to answer Conklin, including six of Cairns’ last nine points. A jump shot with 50 seconds remaining gave the visitors the lead before he iced the game from the line with two free throws in the final 11 seconds.

After a tumultuous week in which their financial future was put into question, Townsville came out fired up, starting the match with an 8-2 run. They shot 53% for the quarter and gained a 9 point lead by the first break.

As he likes to do, Conklin got his game going from the charity stripe, hitting five free throws for 9 first quarter points but Stephen Weigh countered with 9 of his own at the other end.

Cairns found their range from distance in the second term, nailing two early three pointers to open with a 10-3 run. Alex Loughton led the comeback, scoring 7 for the quarter while Townsville’s offence slowed thanks to several turnovers.

Conklin again stood in the visitors way though, with a three point play arresting the momentum shift and allowing the Crocs a 4 point advantage at the main break.

After explosions from Weigh and Loughton, Scottie Wilbeken got in on the act for Cairns out of half-time. He scored 8 points in the third quarter as the visitors notched their first lead since the opening term before a back and forth affair emerged.

Townsville scored 8 of the first 10 points of the final term to open up a handy lead before Loughton and Tragardh responded. They combined for 13 of Cairns’ first 14 points to again draw level.

Another run for the Crocs was capped by a Conklin tip in off a Steve Markovic miss and with their biggest lead of the term and only 7 minutes remaining, the crowd was daring to dream of an upset.

Despite scoring just 1 point by half-time, Tragardh finished with 18, 6 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench. Loughton top-scored for the visitors with 22 points, Weigh added 14 and Wilbeken chimed in with 12. Matt Burston (2 points) did not bother the scoreboard much but collected 8 boards and 5 assists in a quietly solid performance.

No other Crocs player aside from Conklin reached double figures as the power forward was left to do all the heavy lifting offensively. Mickell Gladness was strong with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, Leon Henry had 6 points and 3 steals off the bench while Markovic balanced 3 points, 5 boards and 7 assists with 5 turnovers.

Cairns next face a top three battle against Perth on Friday night before a re-match against Townsville on Sunday. The Crocs also face a double-header, heading to Sydney two nights before their encore match-up.

Townsville Crocodiles 75 (Conklin 33, Steindl 9, Gladness 8)

Cairns Taipans 79 (Loughton 22, Tragardh 18, Weigh 14)

@ Townsville RSL Stadium