NBL 2014/15 Round 9: No McRae, no problem as Melbourne win third straight

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Returning to the US for the birth of his baby, Jordan McRae was absent but Melbourne United did not miss a step, defeating the Townsville Crocodiles 83-79. The loss takes the Crocs’ road record to 1-6 while United now own a league equal best 6-1 home record.

Despite getting out to a 22 point lead in the second quarter and leading by 14 at the final change, United were made to work for their win as the Crocs ensured an exciting finish.

The visitors shot 5-8 from the three point line in the final term and a 5-0 run in the final two minutes got them within 2 points with 34 seconds remaining. However, Darryl Corletto, who was placed into the starting line-up in McRae’s absence, sealed the match with two clutch free throws on the following play.

Townsville only have themselves to blame for the loss, as they gave up 25 points off 23 turnovers compared to Melbourne’s 11. Foul trouble was also an issue, with Mickell Gladness playing just 12 minutes before he was fouled out, while Brian Conklin was also hampered before fouling out after 28 minutes.

Their front court size advantage was evident early, as they happily slumped back into a zone defence and allowed Melbourne to shoot from the perimeter. The tactic worked during the first term, as United shot just 2-9 from deep but when Gladness sat with early fouls, the Crocs lost that luxury.

A stagnant offence was magnified by Melbourne’s press on the ball carrier which forced them into a multitude of errors. That pressure, combined with Townsville’s defensive stalwart being on the bench, allowed the home side to reel off a 21-2 run to start the second term. It blew the match open and the Crocs were playing catch up for the rest of the match.

Melbourne’s 44% field goal shooting was bettered by Townsville’s 47% but the home side recorded 9 more shot attempts. Despite their big men not having the impact they would have desired, the Crocs still finished +12 in rebounds but were unable to make it count on the scoreboard.

Four United starters finished in double figures, led by Mark Worthington (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and a block). He once again proved his leadership qualities at both ends of the floor, picking off passes in mid-court and wrestling back control of the match when the Crocs made their run. Corletto enjoyed his extended minutes, collecting 15 points also, David Barlow hit 4-7 from three for 14 and Daniel Kickert collected 13 points.

Conklin (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Steve Markovic (17 and 4 assists) were Townsville’s best but also contributed a combined 12 turnovers. There was a scare for Markovic when he rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter but he was able to return and play through the pain. Gladness had a night to forget, finishing with 5 and 5 boards but Jacob Holmes (7 and 7) showed talent in his place.

The Crocs head out on the road again next week, battling Cairns on Friday night in the Reptile Rumble. Today’s defeat hurts them on the ladder, as they have moved three losses back of the top four. Melbourne face a double-header against Adelaide and New Zealand in Round 10 and are closing in on third placed Cairns.

Melbourne United 94 (Worthington 15, Corletto 15, Barlow 14)

Townsville Crocodiles 91 (Conklin 17, Markovic 17, Henry 8)

@ Margaret Court Arena