Melbourne United appear to have put a slow start to the NBL season behind them after securing back-to-back wins with a 94-77 victory over the slumping Perth Wildcats.
Reeling after a 2-4 start to the season, United made a welcome return to form on Monday night at John Cain Arena as they backed up from Saturday’s double overtime win over Illawarra to square up their win-loss record at 4-4.
After opening the season with three straight wins, the Wildcats have now lost four matches in a row for the first time since the 2018-19 season.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes starred for United with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five steals as Melbourne recorded their ninth win over Perth in the last 10 meetings between the two sides.
Rathan-Mayes felt holding the Wildcats to under 80 points was the key to victory while a focus on moving the ball resulted in Melbourne tallying 21 assists for the night.
“We were able to get stops on the defensive end. We preached pace, getting out and running and that starts with our defence. I think we did a really good job of that tonight,” Rathan-Mayes told ESPN.
“We got challenged to move the ball more, go side-to-side and then get to making plays. We want to be better in making each other better and I think we did that.”
Guard Shea Ili made his season debut for Melbourne after recovering from concussion symptoms, marking his return with a pair of early triples as the home side withstood a 10-point opening from Perth danger man Bryce Cotton to record their highest first-quarter tally of the season with a 26-24 start.
United made their charge in the second term to lead by as many as 11 points before closing the half with a 50-40 edge, the home side shooting at an impressive 63 per cent from the field.
Todd Blanchfield’s explosive start to the second half gave the visitors some hope but Rathan-Mayes intervened with nine third-quarter points as United maintained their double-digit advantage.
Melbourne also received support from their role players in the third period with David Okwera and Makuach Maluach making valuable contributions, Okwera’s athletic block on Cotton ensuring United took a 69-58 lead into the final quarter.
Perth made one final charge with Brady Manek’s triple and a basket from Cotton cutting the margin to seven points but Ili found Chris Goulding on the baseline for the easy layup then Melbourne’s sharpshooter hit from long distance before Rayjon Tucker put the result beyond doubt with a five-point burst.
United now rise to sixth on the ladder ahead of Friday’s trip to Cairns before taking on rivals South East Melbourne in Sunday’s blockbuster derby clash.