Melbourne United have stormed home in the fourth quarter to defeat the Cairns Taipans 88-81 and earn their first NBL Cup victory.
Melbourne were in serious danger of crashing to their second successive loss at John Cain Arena on Monday evening but the championship favourites clicked when it mattered most to complete a comeback win.
The Taipans held a 52-41 lead in the third term but United chipped away before unleashing a 30-19 run in the final quarter to put their NBL Cup campaign back on track.
Jock Landale paced United with 18 points and 11 rebounds but it was a series of clutch plays from guards Mitch McCarron (17 points, eight assists) and Yudai Baba (17 points) in the closing minutes that proved the difference.
“We haven’t quite found our rhythm offensively but in the fourth quarter we showed good composure and we had good pace,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.
“Mitch really owned the game down the stretch, made really good decisions for us, and Baba was electric. There were a couple of times we didn’t have things going, and he was able to get to the rim.”
Cairns recovered from 12-points down to defeat the Illawarra Hawks in their NBL Cup opener on Saturday but could not maintain their lead despite holding United to their lowest-scoring first half of the season as they enjoyed a 42-35 advantage at the main break.
With Chris Goulding and Shea Ili sidelined through injury, Melbourne in the opening half looked a shadow of the side that ripped through the early rounds of the competition, especially with prized import Scotty Hopson sitting out the entire second quarter after a scoreless start to the match.
But Hopson found ways to contribute after the main break and United’s guards took over in crunch time, leaving Cairns coach Mike Kelly lamenting another game where his side could not produce a consistent four-quarter performance.
“(United) weren’t playing great and we made them pay some offensively plus they missed some shots,” Taipans coach Mike Kelly said after the loss.
“They just kept going and won the possession game by a lot – they kept going and we didn’t.”
With Majok Deng exiting the game in the first quarter with a knee injury, Kouat Noi stepped up with a game-high 27 points while Cam Oliver (18 points, six rebounds) and Scott Machado (14 points, nine assists) were the only other Taipans to finish in double figures.