NBL 2014/15 Round 3: Townsville Build Momentum, Melbourne Falter

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Townsville have won their second game in a row, defeating a disappointing yet dogged Melbourne United 92-81 in front of their home crowd.

Both teams were looking to build off positive performances the previous round, but it was the home team in Townsville who started the strongest. The Crocodiles came out all guns blazing, setting the home crowd alight with a dominant 31-16 opening quarter.

The Crocs had their inside-out game working perfectly in the opening term, hitting a barrage of triples and deep twos, combined with strong play in the paint and stifling defense. Melbourne simply couldn’t stop Townsville in the first half, eventually falling behind 46-36 at the major break.

Offensively Melbourne was acceptable; the same cannot be said for their defensive performance. The crisp ball movement of the Crocs simply overwhelmed United into over-rotations on defense, with Townsville capitalising on the defensive breakdowns by finding the open man repeatedly.

On the back of a strong performance from Daniel Kickert and a supporting cameo from Daryl Corletto off the bench, United was able to rally, even cutting the deficit to a single basket deep in the third. Unfortunately, that was as close as they’d get. Every time Melbourne mounted a comeback, Townsville was able to answer and pull away.

After a topsy-turvy third quarter, Townsville would’ve been forgiven for buckling under the pressure. Instead, they answered the call with composure and maturity, riding the NBL leading scorer Brian Conklin and the hot hand of Clint Steindl.

The only man who looks likely to steal the MVP award from Scottie Wilberkin, Conklin was unstoppable again on Saturday night. Finishing with 23 points and 9 rebounds, Conklin continues to build his case as one of the more dynamic players in the NBL.

Basketball isn’t an individual sport, and as such Conklin was ably supported by his teammates with Townsville finding five individual players scoring in double digits. Clint Steindl was the pick of the Crocs not named Conklin, registering a cool 18 points and 6 rebounds, including 5 of 8 from behind the arc.

Shifted into the starting line-up, Mitch Norton didn’t let his coach down, notching 12 points and 8 assists at the point. Moreover, captain Steven Markovic looks well suited to a bench-scoring role, firing from deep at will to the tune of 11 points.

For Melbourne, time is beginning to run out for this squad to come together and realise its potential. They were able to get a strong contribution from stretch five Daniel Kickert, leading United with 18 points and 5 rebounds.

David Barlow continues to struggle in his return to the NBL, only managing 9 points on 2 of 7 shooting (1-5 from deep). United are crying out for a more consistent and efficient version of David Barlow, and they’re going to need it if they’re any hope of making the playoffs.

Coach Daryl McDonald also made a line-up change, shifting Stephen Dennis into the starting unit and testing the waters with Jordan McRae as the team’s sixth man. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly yield overwhelming positive results, at least not yet. Dennis scored 8 points on 9 shots, and McRae was unable to replicate his strong performance against New Zealand, only managing 13 points (4-10 from the field).

Melbourne only registered 12 total assists for the game, and while admittedly Nate Tomlinson needs to do a better job of running the offense, the onus is on the entire roster to improve the offensive synergy. Other areas of concern are the interior, both defensively and in terms of rebounds.

United allowed 38 points in the paint, that number represents a 14-point differential. Furthermore, they were out-rebounded 44-32, with Gladness and Conklin combining for almost 20 rebounds between them.

For Townsville, its confirmation that they are trending in a positive direction, after two straight losses, they’ve now won two in a row. Melbourne may lament the slow start to the season as they fall to 1-3, stuck right at the bottom of the ladder.

Townsville will be looking for its third win in a row when they face the always tough Perth Wildcats next Sunday, while Melbourne will be looking to rebound against fellow cellar dwellers Wollongong.

Townsville Crocodiles (Conklin 23, Steindl 18, Norton 12)

Melbourne United (Kickert 18, McRae 13, Worthington 11)

@ Townsville RSL Stadium