In years gone by, a three-point loss to the Canberra Gunners would have been cause for celebration among Dubbo Rams fans.
That’s the mentality new coach Bart Sykes is trying to change this season.
Perennial strugglers in the Waratah League, Sykes and his new-look Rams are gunning to return to the peak of the competition this year and fell just short of a dream start on Saturday afternoon at the Woolshed.
With former Division 1 college player Adam Ward starting, the returning duo of Will Howell and Steve Hall in the lineup and one-time Sydney Kings player Martin Iti coming off the bench, the Rams almost achieved a stunning come-from-behind win over the Canberra Gunners.
But the Gunners, regularly one of the top teams in the league, held their nerve late on and two three-pointers inside the final minute sealed a 72-69 victory.
“There was positives but obviously a loss is a loss and we’re trying to get away from that mentality that close enough is good enough,” Sykes said.
“It’s disappointing to lose but there were some positives.”
We’re trying to get away from that mentality that close enough is good enough.Rams coach Bart Sykes
Howell was one of the biggest positives, leading all scorers with 26 points despite some early foul trouble while the 213cm Iti provided a real presence at both ends of the court.
Ward also “rolled up his sleeves” and got into the battle while Jason Brown got through plenty of minutes as well.
While the new season and new players filled local fans with plenty of hope, the bumper crowd on Saturday had little to cheer about early on.
The Gunners dominated and after leading 24-11 after the first quarter, took a 43-28 advantage into the main break.
Sykes confessed he could have changed his defensive structure earlier but when he went from a man-to-man to a zonal approach in the second half the tide began to change.
“We did that in the second half and obviously we won that half by 17 or 18 points so if we did that earlier we change the whole outcome of the game,” Sykes said.
The Rams roared back into the game after the break and the crowd started to get more and more involved as Ward and the towering Iti showcased their skills with a number of dunks.
The Rams were within seven at three-quarter time and despite Ward battling serious cramp late on, the home side soon found themselves in front with just minutes remaining.
A Ward free throw put Dubbo up by three with 50 seconds to go but then Canberra’s Jarrod Fenwick landed a three from the corner to lock things up.
Ward missed two free throws shortly after, only to see the Gunners work the ball down and take a 72-69 lead courtesy of another Fenwick three.
Dubbo had one last shot in the final seconds to level it up but Shayne Brown was left with a difficult three-point attempt and it missed, handing Canberra victory.
“They’re a top three team and they’re fast, young and well-structured so that’s the yardstick,” Sykes said.
“They gave it to us in the first half so it was good to come back like we did.”
Sykes added Iti is likely to become much more of a focal point in attack in the coming weeks after dropping 11 points on Saturday.
Ward finished with 14 and those two, along with Howell, were the only players in double figures.
The Rams travel to Sutherland this Saturday before hosting the defending champions, Bankstown, in round three.