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United stay in NBL finals hunt

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/02/2017

Chris Goulding of Melbourne United © AAP Image/Joe Castro Chris Goulding of Melbourne United Melbourne United took a big step towards booking a place in the NBL semi finals after a tight 78-72 win over the Illawarra Hawks on Monday night.

With the roof open at a packed Hisense Arena, the home side kept the Hawks at arm's length for most of the night to put themselves back into finals calculations with two matches to play.

Import Josh Boone played his best all-round game since arriving at the club mid-season, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Illawarra took over five minutes to hit their first field goal but despite the efforts of Rotnei Clarke (19 points), the Hawks fell short of locking in second spot on the ladder.

United built an early double-digit lead thanks to the long-range shooting of 200-gamer Todd Blanchfield but Clarke's quick-fire 10 points reduced Melbourne's lead after one quarter to 20-15.

Strong work under the basket from Boone kept Melbourne's score ticking over but the combination of Mitch Norton and Oscar Forman saw the Hawks draw level midway through the second term.

A Marvelle Harris triple with 52 seconds left gave Illawarra their first lead of the night but Boone finished on the break to tie the game at 37-37 heading into halftime.

Needing an offensive spark, United found their range with Blanchfield and Goulding hitting from outside while consecutive baskets from David Andersen forced the Hawks into a timeout down 52-45.

AJ Ogilvy's post game kept the Hawks close but another late basket from Boone put United ahead 58-52 at the final change.

In a tense final quarter, United again built a double-figure lead and did not allow the Hawks to get any closer than five points as they recorded their 13th win of the season.

Backing up after Saturday night's 89-76 win in Sydney, Melbourne coach Dean Demopoulos was full of praise for his side's strong performance in another pivotal match.

"I'm really proud of them for this last three days," said Demopoulos. "They did a hell of a job for us."

Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge also felt Melbourne showed more determination to win and that his side did not display enough urgency on the night.

"To me, they wanted it more than what we did so I was pretty disappointed with that aspect," said Beveridge.

"They out rebounded us, they had ten offensive rebounds in that third quarter and that really, really hurts."

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