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GAME REPORT

Next Star leads shorthanded Kings to impressive win

If the Sydney Kings were wondering who would step up in the absence of DJ Vasiljevic for the rest of this NBL season, they got plenty of answers on Thursday night as they withstood a monster South East Melbourne Phoenix fightback to win 97-90.

The Kings were rocked with the news that leading Rookie of the Year candidate Vasiljevic was ruled out for the rest of #NBL21 after rupturing his Achilles and it did raise the question as to who would be able to step up in his absence to keep them in the finals hunt.

Well they got plenty of answers at Qudos Bank Arena on Thursday night taking over the game in emphatic fashion in the third quarter to turn a five-point half-time lead into one of 21 by three quarter-time.

Now the Phoenix didn’t give up the ghost and threw everything into the fourth quarter fightback inspired by the emerging Izayah Le'Afa. But they still could never get closer than Sydney's final winning margin of seven.

The most impressive aspect of the win for the Kings was that Casper Ware didn’t have to dominate. He had just two points and six assists on 1/7 shooting while impressive big man Jarell Martin didn’t play at all and it was up to a different crew to get the job.

Second year Next Star delivered likely the best performance of his NBL career to finish with 28 points and eight rebounds including going 6/7 from three-point range. He was aggressive too and drew five fouls and got to the line seven times.

Then there was veterans Brad Newley and Daniel Kickert who showed what they are still capable of in the latter periods of their careers. Kickert nailed 3/3 from downtown and 6/8 overall for 17 points to go with three rebounds and two assists.

Newley also had 17 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists while shooting 7/10 from the floor.

Centre Jordan Hunter also had 11 points, six rebounds and six blocked shots while Craig Moller contributed nine points, two rebounds and two assists, and Tom Vodanovich nine points and three boards.

Kings coach Adam Forde was proud of the fight shown from his group.

"We had some pretty big wins and this is definitely somewhere up there with the guts. Jarell is out and we've got that next man mentality up but sometimes you just keep getting kicked in the guts," Forde said.

"We wanted to back up our very average performance from the last round and on top of that we still very much have top four ambitions. It had to have been everybody collectively doing what needed to be done on the defensive end.

"Then we generated our points in transition so that is definitely one of our gutsiest wins."

It was a remarkable performance for the Phoenix from Izayah Le'Afa who finished with 29 points, three steals and two rebounds in the best game of his NBL career. He shot a simply stunning 8/12 from beyond the three-point arc.

Ben Moore stood up too for South East Melbourne with 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Mitch Creek 17 points and six boards.

But outside of that the Phoenix were left disappointed with just three points from Cam Gliddon, two from Kyle Adnam and four from Keifer Sykes.

Both teams back up again in Round 14 with the Kings hosting the Cairns Taipans on Saturday while earlier that day, the Phoenix are at home to the Adelaide 36ers.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 14

SYDNEY KINGS 97 (Louzada 28, Newley 17, Kickert 17)

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 90 (Le'Afa 29, Moore 19, 17) 

BOX SCORE 

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