The Perth Wildcats are in grave danger of relinquishing top spot on the NBL ladder after suffering a shock 88-75 road loss to last-placed Townsville on Friday night.
The Wildcats looked to be in control when they opened up a nine-point lead with a hot start to the third quarter, but it was a game of swinging momentum.
The Crocodiles fought back and produced the goods when the game was on the line in a tense final few minutes.
The home side led by six points when a technical foul against Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson gave Crocs guard
Steven Markovic the chance to seal the game from the foul line.
The Australian Boomers international duly obliged to give the struggling Crocs a second straight win after they ended a run of eight consecutive defeats last week.
Wildcats vice-captain Greg Hire lamented his side’s inability to play a full four quarters and close out the game when they had control.
“We’ve really got to start playing money basketball at the end of quarters because we gave them hope and they obviously got their tails up in that fourth quarter,” Hire said.
“We started missing shots and didn’t move the ball and they started making shots, and that was the end result.”
The Wildcats held title contenders Melbourne to just 57 points for the entire game last week, but conceded 50 to the Crocs in the first half.
The home side, led by Markovic, shot the ball at a 53 per cent clip from the field to take a five-point lead to
the main break.
The Wildcats flicked the switch at the start of the third quarter and wrested control of the contest with a 16-2 run.
But momentum swung back Townsville’s way in the final quarter.
Perth import Jermaine Beal leveled the scores at 73-all with three minutes left before the Crocs ran away with the game in front of their home crowd.
Markovic finished with 22 points, while Townsville’s American imports Josh Pace (17) and Brian Conklin (16) also had a big say in the result.
Wildcats forward Jesse Wagstaff was again asked to step up and fill the centre role vacated by injured star Matt Knight (concussion).
He responded with a game-high 24 points, while James Ennis (15) and Jermaine Beal (11) were also prominent in bursts.
The surprise result left the Wildcats (16-6) three wins clear of second-placed Adelaide (13-6), who have three games in hand and take on struggling Wollongong on Sunday.
The Wildcats and 36ers then meet in a blockbuster top-of-the-table clash at Perth Arena next Friday night.
- NBL referees Michael Aylen and Vaughan Mayberry have been selected to officiate at the FIBA World Cup in Spain this September.
Long-serving NBL official Bill Mildenhall will also be involved in the World Cup as a FIBA Referee Supervisor.