Melbourne United leaned heavily on its stars and they came up with the goods in a gritty 84-78 win over the New Zealand Breakers on Saturday night.
Jock Landale (15 points, 11 rebounds), Scotty Hopson (19 points, three assists) and Chris Goulding (12 points, four assists) all stepped up to make sure their club secured a win over the Breakers despite an inspiring 31-point haul from budding New Zealand star Finn Delany.
The win sees Melbourne’s record improve to 16-5 while the Breakers drop to 5-13. With the Perth Wildcats losing to the Adelaide 36ers earlier in the night, that is enough for United to return to the top of the NBL ladder.
United suffered a late injury scare when Hopson appeared to roll his ankle on the final play, he went straight from the court to seek further treatment.
While Landale, Hopson and Goulding combined for 48 of Melbourne’s 84 points, Jo Lual-Acuil was again a livewire with 10 points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes while Dave Barlow chimed in with two triples and eight points.
United coach Dean Vickerman said he was happy to take the win in a difficult game.
“I felt a little uncomfortable going into this one as you didn’t know what to expect,” Vickerman said.
“I felt our defence was great for three quarters of the game then we let a lot of easy ones in to close the game out. We have to do that better but there was a group who came in, our bench group, the energy of that group with Hop as point guard was great.
“It was the first real time we have done that and Hop created some advantages with that. There is lots to improve on but we were just happy to come out with a win.”
Vickerman said Hopson was being assessed post game but his injury didn’t look long-term.
“He wasn’t happy after the game. The last time we played the Breakers he hurt himself as well,” Vickerman said.
“He stepped on a foot and just turned it [his ankle]. He’s getting assessed now but it didn’t look like a long-term injury.”
Finn Delany was a man possessed for the Breakers finishing with 33 points on 12/18 shooting from the floor to go with five rebounds and three assists. Corey Webster added 13 points and Colton Iverson 10 to go with nine rebounds.
New import Levi Randolph showed encouraging signs too with 11 points on debut for New Zealand but they just didn’t quite have enough up against United.
Breakers coach Dan Shamir said his side needed time to bond with multiple new players joining their ranks.
“We have hope in our team because for a long time we were short-handed, now we have a few new players and a functional roster,” Shamir said.
“But one guy is coming off surgery and two players are new to the team. We didn’t make shots, we couldn’t really catch rhythm offensively. We are disappointed but we are hoping we can quickly start playing winning basketball.”
Shamir said McDowell-White had impressed him and the Australian guard had done well after being ‘thrown in the deep water’ as a starter.
“I like him a lot as a player,” Shamir said.
“I think he is a faster thinker, a good passer, good reader. He was out of basketball, I don’t think he is in 100 per cent shape but we were very lucky to have him.”
Delany had 20 of his career-best 33 points in the first half as the Breakers’ slow, methodical style kept them in the contest and frustrated the usually high-octane United offence but the home side adapted and came out much better in the second half where they built an 11-point lead.
The Breakers surged at the start of the final term and looked to try and force an upset over United but Goulding, Hopson and Landale all re-emerged in the contest and made sure their team could score in the big moments down the stretch.
United are clearly hurting without small forward Jack White who went down with a season-ending ruptured Achilles but they are slowly finding their best line-up without him as Mason Peatling, Mitch McCarron, Yudai Baba and David Barlow all had their moments.
Emerging Australian star William McDowell-White impressed in his first start for the Breakers in place of the injured Tai Webster and finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and four assists – with more time on court you can expect even more production from the former NBA G League player as he finds his spots in this league.
The Breakers cut the margin to seven in the final minutes but Goulding broke their trap and found the open Hopson for a dunk to seal the victory.
Melbourne remains at home to host the Brisbane Bullets on Monday night with the Breakers now heading to Tasmania to host the Perth Wildcats on Tuesday.
HUNGRY JACK’S NBL ROUND 13
MELBOURNE UNITED 84 (Hopson 19, Landale 15, Goulding 14)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 78 (Delany 33, C Webster 13, Randolph 11)