– Jonathon Tuxworth
THE JackJumpers squandered a chance to virtually put one foot through the NBL playoffs draw after a sloppy start cost them dearly in Wednesday night’s 86-75 loss to South-East Melbourne Phoenix at Launceston.
Tasmania (13-11) were hot favourites to secure a third straight win against a previously freefalling South East Melbourne, who had lost their past five matches, at a sold out Silverdome.
But a poor first quarter from the hosts and a big performance from Phoenix’s MVP contender Mitchell Creek, who did most of his damage early, proved too difficult to overcome.
JackJumpers coach Scott Roth labelled their last-start win over Adelaide as their best win of the season, but their performance against the Phoenix was arguably their worst.
Tasmania entered the clash in fourth spot on the table and a win would have seen them edge close to all but securing a second straight post-season campaign.
The Jackies shot 43 per cent from the field to 39. But after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, losing the assist count 19-11 and committing 14 turnovers to seven, they will enter the last four games of the regular season right in the playoff melting pot, with six teams battling for the last four spots.
The JackJumpers were lethargic out of the blocks, giving up an early 24-14 quarter time lead.
Hungry to arrest their slide the Phoenix (13-12) were aggressive from the outset, attacking the rim and forcing the JackJumpers into a number of early fouls.
Aside from the odd burst of JackJumpers momentum in the second half, the Phoenix controlled the contest to keep their playoff hopes alive.
JackJumpers import Milton Doyle (16 points, five assists) found some spark late and forward Jack McVeigh continued his good form with 15 bench points, but the Creek-led Phoenix packed too many punches.
Tasmania was made to pay for a poor first stanza where they lost the turnover count 5-0, gave away too many offensive rebounds and allowed the Phoenix to live on the free throw line.
A 7-0 Jackjumpers run midway through the second term cut the margin to 30-25.
However the Phoenix responded to build the lead out to 12, and extended it to 14 at the main break.
Creek (21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) was superb for the visitors in the first half in particular, racking up 16 points and seven rebounds before half-time.
His focus on attacking the basket leading to eight free throw attempts after forcing five fouls on the Jackjumpers.
A 9-0 run late in the third quarter got the JackJumpers back in the game after cutting the deficit to 59-56.
But as had been the case throughout the match, the Phoenix found a way to snap Tasmania’s momentum and restored their buffer to 64-56 at the final break.
The hosts never really threatened to bridge the gap in the last quarter as they left their second and final game in Launceston this season empty-handed.
The JackJumpers travel to Cairns to play the Taipans this Friday night.
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE86 (Mitch Creek 21, Alan Williams 16, Gary Browne 15) defTASMANIA 75 (Milton Doyle 16, Jack McVeigh 15, Rashard Kelly 12) at Launceston on Wednesday night.
Originally published as NBL23: Slow-starting JackJumpers miss golden opportunity with loss to South East Phoenix