Altona Gators spent a week preparing Operation Emmanuel Malou and executed their plans to perfection in an upset 84-79 win over Melton Thoroughbreds in the Big V basketball men’s division 2 at Altona Sports Centre on Sunday.
The Gators knew they could not afford to give Malou any freedom on the court, so they studied ways to defend the athletic big as early as their first training session of the week and then rolled out a team defence on game day to limit his impact.
Malou finished with 12 points – well down on his season average of 19 and significantly fewer than the 28 he scored against the Gators earlier in the season.
Gators’ coach Des Radoslovic described it as a successful mission from his team.
“We did a video session at the start of the week that was longer than normal,” he said.
“We prepared so many specific things for today’s game and we really executed.
“They’ve got their import Dexter Graham and they’ve also got Emmanuel Malou, who was a borderline NBA player and is actually about to sign to play for the Cairns Taipans in the NBL, so he’s the one we targeted.
“If he gets off the leash you’re in trouble, but we just crowded him, any time he got the ball on the inside, we doubled him.”
Altona got the jump on the visitors with a 28-17 opening period. Melton, who rode a three-game win streak into the game, plugged away for the next two periods and wound up near on parity at three-quarter time.
While the Thoroughbreds threatened, Altona had all the answers.
That was the most pleasing aspect for Radoslovic, not only were the Gators defensively astute, but they also executed their own offensive plays.
“We executed exactly the way we planned,” he said. “They kept fighting back but we were the more disciplined team in the end.”
Young Altona point guard Nathanael Coory was the key to his team’s play in the late game situations. Coory was both provider and finisher en route to 17 points, four rebounds and three assists.
“He’s a five-foot-10 point guard going up against these monsters and he still controls the game,” Radoslovic said.
“He made some really key plays.
“Even though Nate is only 17, you just trust him when he’s got the ball in his hands.”
Altona goes nowhere near causing an upset without James Till in the paint.
Till was the only Gator equipped to bang bodies with the Thoroughbreds bigs, so he stayed in the game for 37 of the 40 minutes, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“Their starting five is six-foot-11, six-foot-nine, six-foot-seven and six-foot-seven, he’s my only guy up at that size, so I couldn’t afford to have him come off in the second half,” Radoslovic said. “He’s got himself very fit and that’s something he’s worked on.
“He didn’t look fatigued at all playing down the stretch and did well.”
The under-sized James Webster was willing to get his hands dirty in the paint and help Till, while also stretching the floor with his shooting, with 14 points and five rebounds.
Captain Tommy Scott put on a defensive master class, but also provided 13 crucial points.
The victory has breathed life into Altona’s season. They are 4-8, but only two games out of the finals picture.
“Today was season on the line,” Radoslovic said.
“We left it all out there and did everything we could to get the win.
“If we win next week against Sherbrooke, we’re back in the mix and competing with the teams for the spots in the bottom of the six.
“This becomes our most important game now.”