The injury-hit South East Melbourne Phoenix have survived a late challenge from cross-town rivals Melbourne United to complete a memorable 97-92 overtime win in the NBL Cup.
United trailed for the majority of Wednesday’s derby at John Cain Arena but outscored the Phoenix 21-14 in the final quarter to force overtime, keeping their prospects of winning the NBL Cup alive.
But Mitch Creek refused to let his side fall away as he combined with Reuben Te Rangi to power the Phoenix home with a series of key plays throughout the final quarter and extra period.
The Phoenix had lost four straight against United since winning the inaugural Throwdown in their first NBL appearance, but the result sees them improve to a 7-7 record for the season.
“I’m really proud of the fellas, pretty difficult circumstances going into that one in regards to our roster,” coach Simon Mitchell said after the Phoenix suited up just nine players due to a slew of injuries and prized recruit Ryan Broekhoff still being unavailable.
Creek continued his rich vein of form with a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds in 42 minutes on court.
“I think that was probably Mitch’s best game for us anyway,” Mitchell said about his marquee man.
“He really put everyone on his back down the stretch and in important moments, and made all the play and the right decisions – it was quite heroic of him.”
While short on personnel, South East Melbourne showed they were up for the occasion as they attacked the basket with gusto to set up a 50-42 halftime lead, Kyle Adnam the catalyst with 15 points and five rebounds.
Melbourne worked their way back into the contest after halftime and grabbed a five-point lead with two minutes to play before Adnam tied the scores with a three-pointer and the game went to overtime after Jo Lual-Acuil blocked Creek’s final shot.
But the Phoenix prevailed in the extra period as United crashed to back-to-back losses for the first time this season despite 22-point efforts from Jock Landale and Chris Goulding.
Coach Dean Vickerman was disappointed to see his side fall short after approaching the game with a finals-like mentality.
“We talked about this being a semi-final for us, we needed to win this one tonight to even give ourselves a chance to win this tournament,” Vickerman said after the loss left them behind top-placed Perth on the NBL Cup ladder with one match to play.
“Yep, we lost the Throwdown but we also don’t give ourselves an opportunity to walk into that last game and win the tournament so that’s what I’m most disappointed with tonight.”