United win NBL derby thriller over Phoenix

Darren Snowdon |

Melbourne United have struck a damaging blow to South East Melbourne Phoenix’s playoff chances after defeating their crosstown rivals 90-88 to maintain top spot on the NBL ladder.

United stormed home in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s match-up at John Cain Arena to complete a thrilling comeback victory after South East Melbourne appeared on track to secure a crucial win to get their season back on course.

Down by seven at the start of the final quarter, Melbourne opened with 10 unanswered points then kept their cool in the closing moments with Jo Lual-Acuil dribbling the length of the floor and dunking home for an 89-88 lead with 30 seconds to play

Zhou Qi and Kyle Adnam both missed opportunities to put the Phoenix back on top before Xavier Munford’s half-court heave with time expiring bounced off the rim as United secured their 17th win of the season.

“We spoke before the game about (Phoenix) having nothing to lose and in desperation mode, but so are we because we’ve got plans for where we want to finish,” Chris Goulding said after pacing United with 20 points in the win.

“I just love the way that we knuckled down and relied on our defence once again, to allow us to get out and run, and get some shots … that’s a good result for us against them.”

The result keeps United (17-7) ahead of the surging Sydney Kings (15-7) in the race for the minor premiership and opens up the opportunity to lock in a semi-final berth with a win over the Cairns Taipans on Sunday.

Having slipped out of the top four following six losses in their past seven games, the Phoenix made Chinese centre Qi the focal point of the offence and handed opportunities to 18-year-old development player Owen Foxwell and Lachie Barker.

The surprise line-up changes worked in South East Melbourne’s favour as they scored the last eight points of the first half to take a narrow advantage into the main break then made an 11-2 start to the third quarter.

But the defending champions came roaring back and survived a barrage of three-pointers from the home side in the fourth quarter to leave the Phoenix languishing on 12-12, with their top-four hopes in tatters.

Coach Simon Mitchell lamented his side’s recent struggles with execution in the closing moments coming back to haunt them again.

“Compounded turnovers, giving up o-boards, second-chance points – it’s the same story every game,” Mitchell said after the loss.

“We are busting our arse trying to get this right but it’s not working for us.”