The pressure – forced upon by a ruthless opponent in a top-of-the-table clash and other factors in and out of their control – went up a cog on undefeated Melbourne United on Thursday night.
In spite of foul trouble, the absence of import Hakim Warrick and not reaching their optimum levels, United somehow managed to dig out a 75-73 victory over Perth Wildcats in an NBL cliffhanger at Hisense Arena.
Shawn Redhage produced a huge three-pointer to put the Wildcats ahead with 13.9 seconds to go in the fourth quarter and United’s winning streak was under severe threat.
But United coach Dean Demopoulos put the ball in point guard Stephen Holt’s hands and told him to go to work.
Holt, who had 15 points and four rebounds, pierced what had been a water-tight Wildcats defence all night to connect on a lay up and give United the lead.
Demopoulos has often gone to star shooting guard Chris Goulding in late game situations, but made the right call in giving Holt the responsibility.
“We had done that with Chris a few times and he delivered,” Demopoulos said. “I just felt it was Stephen’s turn for that particular moment.
“I just liked him with the ball.”
As had been the case for the previous 39 minutes, the Wildcats refused to give in late.
They went up the other end and used Jermaine Beal to drive to the basket to try and force overtime, but he was emphatically denied by United centre Majok Majok.
“He’s got great timing with that,” Demopoulos said. “For a young player it’s really unusual.
“I know he’s capable of policing that rim and blocking shots.”
Majok was the best player for United, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The 22-year-old had the unenviable task of containing hulking Wildcats centre Nathan Jawai and doing it with foul trouble.
Majok is a serious talent and one to watch for higher honours going forward.
“He’s come such a long way in a short time,” Demopoulos said. “He’s still real young and he’s starting on a high level team in the highest level basketball league in this country.
“For a young guy just come in and hold down that position and do it with the grace and strength that this kid does it, it’s really eye opening.”
Goulding provided a much-needed spark in the middle of the fourth quarter.
United went six-and-a-half minutes at the start of the last quarter without registering a score as the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run to go from trailing by six at three quarter time to taking the lead.
But Goulding changed the momentum of the game when he breezed past Wildcats guard Jarrod Kenny to break the drought and finish the and-1 after being fouled.
Goulding finished with 19 points for the game and his purple patch of form continued.
The late surge from United could not disguise their deficiencies across the four quarters.
They were beaten badly on the boards, out-rebounded 52 to 27.
With Warrick out with a groin injury, United had a hard time curtailing the influence of Matt Knight (17 points and 12 rebounds) and Jawai (13 points and eight rebounds), though Majok tried to be with them every step of the way.
“We were fortunate in a lot of ways,” Demopoulos said. “We could’ve lost that game very easily.
“Give the guys credit, they dug in, won it on the last possession.
“We didn’t play the game the way we wanted to play tonight and I give Perth a lot of credit, they’re a really strong, deep, well coached team.
“We’re not ever going to spot anybody that many rebounds and win again. It was an aberration.”
United will take a 6-0 record into its clash with the Sydney Kings at Hisense Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Former NBA star forward Al Harrington looks set to be inserted into the Kings line-up.
Tickets and game information are available through melbourneutd.com.au.
Melbourne United 75 (Goulding 19, Holt 15, Majok, Kickert 12) d Perth Wildcats 73 (Knight 17, Jawai 13, Redhage 12).
Star Weekly’s best …
Majok Majok (United): Majok was fighting out of his weight division against Nathan Jawai and doing it with foul trouble, but the young centre persevered and was a key factor in the win for his club.
Matt Knight (Wildcats): Knight’s inside-outside game was impressive, he was efficient from the field and involved in every scrap under the basket. Hard done by to come out on the losing side.
Chris Goulding (United): It was not Goulding’s best shooting night, but it was still United’s most lethal weapon on the offensive end. Goulding’s last quarter heavily influenced the outcome of the game.
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