Melbourne United remain on top of the NBL ladder after withstanding a late challenge to defeat local rivals South East Melbourne Phoenix 96-90.
The derby clash at Bendigo Basketball Stadium gave Victorians their first taste of NBL action this season with United reaffirming their status as title contenders with their third win of the campaign.
Rookie Jack White led the way with 22 points, six rebounds and four blocks as Melbourne joined the Hawks as the only unbeaten teams remaining after three rounds.
“The rap on (White) at different times was his shot hasn’t been consistent but we’ve seen him shoot it so consistently in practice,” coach Dean Vickerman said after the 23-year-old drilled two triples to get United rolling early.
“He shot the ball with really good confidence early and got rewarded, then we see the way he protected the rim … he’s helped us in a lot of areas.”
Backing up after Friday’s nail-biting one-point away win over the Perth Wildcats, the Phoenix looked dead and buried after three quarters but exploded for 36 points in the final term to set up a tense finish.
But United held their nerve in the final minutes to complete the win, Chris Goulding finishing with 19 points and Jock Landale adding 16 points and seven rebounds.
Keifer Sykes compiled 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Phoenix with support from New Zealand centre Yanni Wetzell (15 points, seven boards) and Mitch Creek (13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists).
“I can’t argue too much in regards of the effort, I thought we played about as well as we could given the circumstances,” coach Simon Mitchell said after the Phoenix completed a 30-day road stretch with a 2-3 record.
“I thought the focus was pretty good but we had some breakdowns throughout the game that showed our lack of preparation.”
United looked dangerous early in the match but a run of 10 straight points from Sykes helped the Phoenix keep pace with scores level at 22-22 after one quarter.
Momentum swung towards Melbourne midway through the second period when Sykes went to the bench after a second offensive foul, United outscoring the Phoenix 16-8 to close the half with a 47-40 advantage.
The Phoenix managed to reduce a 10-point deficit but all their hard work came undone when Goulding connected from long distance to cap an 8-0 United run then Jo Lual-Acuil drilled a triple on the buzzer to extend the lead to 66-54.
United surged ahead by 15 points in the final stanza but solid play from Sykes and Creek, along with timely long-range shooting from Cam Gliddon, forced United to grind out the win in the closing moments.