Defending NBL champions Melbourne United have racked up a fifth successive victory, 95-83 over the Brisbane Bullets, to help coach Dean Vickerman celebrate his 250th NBL game in style.
The NBL ladder leaders dominated the second half of Saturday’s clash at John Cain Arena to continue building on the best start to a season in franchise history (13-4) and maintain their advantage over second-placed South East Melbourne Phoenix.
After trailing by one point at the long break, the hosts slowly gained the ascendancy and led by as many as 15 before a late Robert Franks triple closed the scoring.
Despite a quiet night from captain Chris Goulding, six United players finished in double figures with Jo Lual-Acuil (20), Caleb Agada (15) and Ariel Hukporti (14 in 15 minutes) making key contributions.
A three-time championship winner with United and New Zealand Breakers, Vickerman became the 19th coach to reach the 250-game milestone and holds the second-best winning percentage of the group — only trailing current Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian.
“I can tell you now I’m not getting to 750 games or whatever Goorj is at right now,” Vickerman joked after recording win number 159 of his head-coaching career.
“Winning is really important to me so having a strong winning percentage and putting yourself in a position to make finals and challenge for championships each year is what I’m all about and what this club is all about.”
Brisbane matched it with Melbourne in a tight opening half, recovering from a string of early turnovers to grab a 37-36 half-time edge with Franks performing admirably in his match-up with in-form United centre Lual-Acuil.
But United countered with a 26-18 third-quarter win, Lual-Acuil and Agada playing pivotal roles to build a 62-55 advantage.
Jason Cadee threatened to trigger a fourth-quarter comeback for the Bullets but United answered every challenge, Matthew Dellavedova’s timely triple putting them ahead 85-76 before a pair of Jack White free throws extended the lead into double digits.
Franks (20) and Cadee (17) led the scoring for Brisbane while NBL Next Star Tom Digbeu showed flashes of his potential as he made the most of his opportunities to help cover the absence of guards Nathan Sobey and Anthony Drmic.
Brisbane coach James Duncan was happy with the way his side competed but turnovers and lapses in transition defence cost them any chance of securing a valuable win on the road.
“Obviously just a little bit frustrating because we played some good basketball but we weren’t able to execute for continuous stretches throughout the game which obviously hurt us,” Duncan said.