Despite an off-season with key players turned over for both teams, Melbourne United found a way to overcome last year’s bottom side – the New Zealand Breakers – with the help of guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes’ brilliant performance.
Key players were out for United, with Shea Ili and Mason Peatling still ruled out with injuries, it meant others including new import Rayjon Tucker and Rathan-Mayes had to step up and find others off the bench to share the scoring load.
Rathan-Mayes finished the game with a career-high 33 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Chris Goulding stepped up in the second half, scoring 23 points and Tucker finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Rathan-Mayes spoke post-game about his game first time in United colours and his desire to contribute to getting the first-up win.
“It felt good coming out here and doing whatever it takes to help us take the win,” he said.
“Coach [Dean Vickerman] challenged me pre-season, to be able to shoot the ball. I was being hesitant in the pre-season, we had a talk and he challenged me.
“I really took that to heart, wanted to come out and help us get the win.”
And shoot he did, going 11/20, hitting the most shots of any player on court, and shooting only less than the Breakers’ Barry Brown Jr.
Rathan-Mayes spoke about how the extra drive to perform can add confidence to his game.
“That was my biggest takeaway. You get challenged by a coach of his stature and you can sit back, and you can fold, or rise to the occasion,” he explained.
“My biggest takeaway from that was to shoot the ball. Once you get those shots, he wants you to be aggressive.
“I’ve put in the work and put in the time. It was about that confidence to do it and knowing he had that confidence in me, was big for me and that was my biggest takeaway.”
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The first few minutes were scrappy, as the two teams went toe-to-toe and looked to find their range. With United struggling to drop shots, Brown Jr. lifted the Breakers, nailing shots from the three-point range and finishing the first quarter with 10 points.
After a slow start by United, Tucker provided a sparking dunk, with the assist by Jordan Caroline to give the home crowd a highlight of the match, going into the quarter time break trailing by two.
In the past few seasons, Melbourne United haven’t won their opening home match of the season, going in with a point to prove in this one.
In the early stages of the second quarter, United had the edge, lifting their intensity and shooting the ball better from the field. They would shoot at 11 from 23 from the three-point line, going into the half time break with a three point lead, 45-42.
Brown Jr. continued to provide the offensive spark, while also dominating defensively, pulling down strong rebounds in the post and keeping Goulding’s scoring power down for the majority of the first half.
Goulding came out firing after the long break, nailing a crucial three to get the scoring punch going for United. The Breakers came out of the half time break not allowing United to get any easy scores, causing headaches for the guards and inside the post.
Whilst the last quarter was tight and intense, with Brown Jr coming clutch to take the Breakers into over-time in the desperate stages, Rathan-Mayes did much of the same to seal the win for United.
United coach Dean Vickerman spoke on his pride of getting the win with four new recruits in the line-up.
“Coming into the game, I was unsure what I was going to get from this group,” the coach explained.
“We haven’t had enough time together and not enough games. The Breakers got off to a pretty good start, we probably started a bit different than we thought, going with a pretty big group out there to start with.
“At the back end of the first quarter, we got back into it, found a little rhythm with the three ball.
“We’ll look at some things at the end of regular time that we could have done better to try and close it out.
“For this group to get into an overtime game and come through strongly was really pleasing.”
Brown Jr (23 points, five assists, four rebounds) and Dererk Pardon (23 points, 12 rebounds) were the Breakers’ best players.
In Round 2, Melbourne United will face the Sydney Kings at John Cain Arena, whilst the Breakers will kick off their first proper set of home fixtures in three years, facing the JackJumpers at home at Spark Arena.
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