You could sense a tenseness among Melbourne United fans walking into Melbourne Arena on Saturday evening.
After starting the NBL season 0-3 following three straight losses in tight games, there was a collective feeling of ‘we really need this’ for United to begin its march back to the chasing pack.
It was looking dicey for Melbourne United for much of its crucial game against the New Zealand Breakers, but they showed the toughness desired to come back from a seven-point half-time deficit and run out 104-98 winners.
United coach Dean Vickerman was proud of the way his team fought back from a lacklustre start.
“We kind of talked about toughness through the week and I thought we put ourselves in some holes today and really pleased that we found a way to tough it out,” he said.
“Our emotions at different times were up and down and we just found a way through it today.
“There was a real what’s next mentality, a move forward mentality.
“That was a big adjustment mentally for us today just to not hold on to things and to find a way out.”
The flow of the game was mirrored the performances of Melbourne United imports Melo Trimble and Shawn Long.
Trimble, playing at the point, and Long, the imposing centre, took a long time to get involved in the game.
Only after half time did Trimble begin the light up the scoreboard and Long start get on top in his match-up with Breakers centre Brandon Ashley.
Long’s match up with Ashley was undoubtedly the most crucial in the game.
Vickerman knew his centre needed to step up after being over-shadowed by Ashley in the first half, in which he scored 17 of his 24 points.
Long responded in a positive way to Vickerman’s half time challenge and finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds of his own.
Melbourne United point guard Shea Ili was lively off the bench. (Photo by Melbourne United)
He was far more assertive on the offensive end and more eager to fight for the scraps under the basket in the second half.
“We know about Shawn, there’s a frustration, but it’s how we get over it,” Vickerman said.
“I certainly didn’t blow up at him, it was just a challenge to him to say you’re better than that and I think he likes it at different times as well.
“I think he likes to be pushed, I think he likes to be challenged and I think sometimes he needs it to get that little edge as well.
“I thought he finished stronger, I thought he rebounded at a different level in the second half and came up with those extra possessions that we needed.”
After a slow start, Trimble finished with 24 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Chris Goulding, with 24 points, and Mitch McCarron, who flirted with a triple double, finishing with eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists, were other important contributors, while David Barlow, who had 11 points and nine rebounds, was a nuisance on the defensive end.
When the Breakers had the momentum in the first half, Shea Ili, Tohi Smith-Milner and Jo Lual-Acuil were inserted to provide much-needed energy to change the complexion of the game.
Vickerman deployed a new defensive set that he deemed a success.
“We put a defensive set in that was a little bit switchy and did some different things,” he said.
“We needed that alternative defence today and that helped us.”
After three consecutive one-basket losses, Vickerman was just relieved to get a W in the books.
“Another close game, nice to get on the right side of that one,” he said.
Melbourne United will have no time to lap up its first win of the season.
United (1-3) is back on court on Monday night from 7.30pm for a clash with Cairns Taipans (1-4) at the Cairns Convention Centre.