15/04/2024

Keifer Sykes starred for the Phoenix in their Throwdown victory. (Photo: @SEMelbPhoenix/Twitter)

In a highly-anticipated Throwdown IX, the Phoenix upset United through some unexpected contributions from key players.

The South East Melbourne Phoenix knew they needed to produce a special performance if they were to match it with the table-leading Melbourne United in Throwdown IX.

At John Cain Arena on Sunday, the third-placed Phoenix capitalised on a sloppy United side to waltz to a 94-83 upset win that sees South East Melbourne take a major step towards booking a maiden play-offs berth.

Following a terrific away win against the Perth Wildcats on Thursday night, United came out of the blocks slowly, relying on star centre Jock Landale to reproduce his Throwdown IIX heroics from just eight days ago.

But in the latter stages of the second half it was bench guard Keifer Sykes who came to the fore, draining clutch shots down the stretch to post 26 points alongside three rebounds and six assists.

The American ran hot and was undefendable, knocking down a range of three balls and mid-range shots in the final minutes of the third quarter to break the close contest open. Up until that point, neither team had enjoyed a lead of more than five points, mainly through constant turnovers and inconsistent shooting. Sykes’ explosion gave the Phoenix the edge they needed to close the contest and make a statement to the competition.

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“I don’t necessarily try to score, I just try to win the game,” Sykes said post-game.

“It’s my job – it’s why I’m here and I love doing it. It just feels so good to be back and I’m so focused on the game.”

United coach Dean Vickerman shared in the praise for Sykes, admitting “he got into the sort of form we saw earlier in the year from him.”

Keifer Sykes came off the bench to wreak havoc against United on Sunday (Photo – NBL)

Sykes was joined by the return to form of Phoenix star Mitch Creek, who immediately inserted himself into the game with a surge of aggression at the post.

Creek ended with 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in an all-round brilliant performance that nullified United’s vaunted tall timber.

For Sykes and coach Simon Mitchell, Creek’s resurgence was thrilling for the Phoenix franchise to witness in such a blockbuster clash.

“I love Mitch and I love playing with him, it’s good when I can release it and score differently with him having the eight assists,” Sykes said.

“Mitch is back, we spoke at length after last game and he’s in a good place right now, he’s in a good frame of mind,” Mitchell said.

“I thought he was outstanding tonight – he wasn’t overly efficient for his usual standards, but he pushed through and provided energy, he’s a real leader of this ball club.”

The change in the Phoenix’s fortune came with a surge in rebounding aggression through the second half, as Landale’s early dominance was replaced when South East Melbourne managed to snag 22 second chance points throughout the match.

Big man Yannick Wetzell excelled when switched onto a one-on-one match up with Landale, slowing the United star drastically in the second half and grabbing six rebounds himself to go with his 12-point game.

United looked sloppy when it mattered, shooting at only 25 per cent from beyond the arc. With fitness clouds hanging over Chris Goulding and Yudai Baba, United became the eighth consecutive side to drop its next game after winning in Perth.

With a crunch clash awaiting them in Wollongong against the Hawks, United has been shown where it needs to improve if it is to become a factor in the title race.

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