Dean Vickerman. Picture: NBL

Dean Vickerman. Picture: NBL

Melbourne United was too strong for South East Melbourne Phoenix in the NBL Throwdown on Saturday night and despite a late resurgence from Phoenix, United secured victory 99-83.

The win was the side’s 18th this season. However, head coach Dean Vickerman notched up a more impressive feat, claiming his 200th NBL win as coach.

South East Melbourne was always up against it and came into the match as the major underdog without players like Mitch Creek, Gary Browne, Alan Williams, Matt Kenyon and Craig Moller all sidelined with injury.

It was the first game back at John Cain Arena since December 23 with a sold-out crowd packing into the building to watch the blockbuster game.

United gradually took the game away from Phoenix, with the lead blowing out to an ugly 31 points late in the third term. But South East Melbourne didn’t give up and fought back to win the last quarter 24-11 and reduce the final margin to 16 points.

Melbourne United sits on top of the ladder following the win with an impressive 18-7 season record, a number it will be hoping to increase when the side takes on the bottom-placed New Zealand Breakers this Sunday.

It was Phoenix who registered the first score of the night as Rhys Vague knocked down a three to kick off proceedings but United quickly wrestled back the lead through Luke Travers. Within minutes it was clear that the lack of South East Melbourne big men would give United a huge advantage as Ariel Hukporti found space and jammed down an alley-oop.

The first quarter was a pretty even battle as the lead continued to go back and forth. Gorjok Gak and Ben Ayre worked hard to help Phoenix generate some good looks, while Ian Clark showed he was free of injury nailing a couple threes to finish the first quarter with eight points.

Melbourne United got on top late in the term taking a 26-17 lead into the break thanks to threes from Tanner Krebs and Shea Ili.

United continued to flex its muscles in the second quarter as the side took advantage of their depleted opposition. Jo Lual-Acuil Jr had a huge impact on the game as the lack of talls for South East Melbourne became prominent.

Phoenix drew plenty of fouls and continually found themselves at the free throw line keeping them in the game. By half time, the scoreboard read 57-44.

There is no doubt that the absence of Creek was felt during this quarter and throughout the entire match at both ends of the court.

United dominated the third term starting with an 11-0 scoring run, forcing turnovers from South East Melbourne and capitalising on the offensive blast. Abdel Nader showed what he was capable of for Phoenix dropping some tough buckets. But after a few controversial decisions, he was fouled out with the score reding 88-59 at three quarter time.

United coach, Dean Vickerman took the opportunity to keep some of the starters fresh in the fourth and get some minutes into some of the younger players on the side. Flynn Cameron finished with 15 points and was very impressive.

Phoenix stand-in captain, Reuben Te Rangi kept his team positive, and they finished in a strong fashion. Owen Foxwell (14 points) and Ben Ayre (13 points) led the side’s scoring bringing the final margin back to 16 points, 99-83.

It was a cruisy victory for United with plenty of players contributing to all areas of the game. While a win was always unlikely, the courage that South East Melbourne showed in their gallant fightback was not to be underestimated.

Lual-Acuil Jr was one of United’s best finishing with 16 points and four rebounds while Matthew Dellavedova (seven points, eight assists) and Ili (eight points, five assists, two steals) were good with making plays.

Nader was the standout for Phoenix despite only playing 18 minutes. Development player, Luke Rosendale also put in a good game with nine points shooting at 100 percent.

Following the game, Vickerman identified the match up as a “danger game” and was impressed with his side’s convincing win.

“I enjoyed our third quarter … I thought the group came out and put the game to bed fairly early, which was really pleasing,” he said.

“Credit to them (South East Melbourne), obviously well undermanned and they kept fighting, they’ve got some talented young kids on that team.”

Phoenix coach, Mike Kelly praised his young team for the resilience in the face of adversity.

“They beat up on us pretty good there for a little while and then our guys kept fighting, I think we fought through everything so that’s my first takeaway,” he said.

“They pushed us out early and the guys stayed with it and gave effort the whole time, I was happy with the effort, not happy with the result.”

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