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GAME REPORT

Ashley Stands Tall as Phoenix Win in Cairns

Brandon Ashley came up huge for the South East Melbourne Phoenix in the absence of Zhou Qi for a crucial 86-74 win on Friday night against the Cairns Taipans to snap their recent losing run.

The Phoenix arrived at the Cairns Convention Centre on a four-game losing streak and finding themselves sitting outside the top four for the first time this season coming into Round 17.

With Ryan Broekhoff still sidelined and Zhou Qi missing the road double-header weekend, the challenge was ahead of the Phoenix starting against a Taipans team on their home floor and coming off a win last start.

However, it was Ashley who proved the major difference between the two teams. He produced his best NBL performance as he benefited from the increased role without Qi there and by staying out of foul trouble.

He finished with a career-best 25 points, four rebounds and three steals on 8/9 shooting from the floor and 9/12 at the foul line.

The point guard battle between Xavier Munford and Scott Machado was fascinating all evening as well.

Munford had 17 points in the first half for South East Melbourne and finished with 25 points, five rebounds and four assists while Machado had all his 12 points for Cairns in the opening half before also finishing with five assists.

Mitch Creek also had 14 points, eight rebounds and three steals for the Phoenix with Izayah Le'afa adding 10 points, three boards and two steals.

Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell was just happy to get away with the win and to see some pleasing signs along the way.

"I thought there were some good signs there for us tonight. I was really pleased for our defensive rebounding especially out of our zone which has been a bit of an issue for us," Mitchell said. 

"I thought the guys did a really good job finding a body out of that and cleaning up, and I thought that helped us gain a little bit of momentum in the game. Obviously Xavier Munford in the first half was outstanding and then Bash took over in the second half. 

"It was just pleasing to have a little bit of balance of taking it off the dribble, pick and roll action, and then also being able to settle into the post and playing off that. From our standpoint, I was relatively pleased and it's obviously nice to have a win."

Also for the Snakes, Tahjere McCall produced 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, Kouat Noi 12 points, Majok Deng 11 points and Keanu Pinder 10 points and nine boards.

Taipans coach Adam Forde saw areas of improvement but still wants to see more of it now over the last nine games of the season.

"The start of the third quarter especially sort of summed it up where credit to South East they did a great job of keeping on going back to the well of what was working for them," Forde said.

"You can see the layers of where we're looking to adjust and are getting better, we just need to do it in a shorter window now. But we are learning and there's some great teaching points especially for some of our guys in tonight's game."

The Snakes got the perfect start with Tahjere McCall finding Keanu Pinder for a dunk straight from the tip. McCall then scored for the 4-0 start and when he knocked down a three soon after, the home team was up 11-6.

South East Melbourne needed to respond and they did with the next 10 points starting with Mitch Creek opening his account before triples from Xavier Munford and Izayah Le'afa.

However, the Taipans weren’t going away and when Scott Machado connected from deep the scores were level but Lachlan Barker gave the Phoenix the 24-22 quarter-time lead.

Machado and Pinder gave Cairns the first four points of the second quarter to give them the lead but with Munford continuing to prove unstoppable on his way to 17 first half points, the Phoenix worked their way back on top.

They went on a 9-2 streak shortly before half-time and that saw them lead 43-38 at the break with the Snakes getting 12 points and four assists from Machado despite the team only going 4/18 from downtown.

The Phoenix opened up the second half on fire with the first four points to Ashley, and then after Cairns got a three from Majok Deng, South East Melbourne kept rolling with the next eight points to suddenly lead by 14.

From there the Phoenix still held a 10-point edge by three quarter-time and it didn’t take long into the fourth quarter for Ashley to add five more points of his own and to help to extend is team's lead out to 14 before securing the 12-point win.

Both teams will be backing up to play again in Round 17 on Sunday with the Taipans back at the Cairns Convention Centre to play the New Zealand Breakers. The Phoenix have to travel to Adelaide to take on the 36ers in the earlier game on Sunday.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 17

CAIRNS TAIPANS 74 (McCall 14, Machado 12, Noi 12)

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 86 (Ashley 25, Munford 23, Creek 14) 

BOX SCORE

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