X-Factor for Phoenix in Big Opening Night Win

South East Melbourne Phoenix were ever so close to the Grand Final a season ago and with Xavier Munford inspiring a superb #NBL22 season opening performance, they put the New Zealand Breakers to the sword 89-65.

Spurred on by getting so close last season to reaching the Grand Final when they started Game 3 of their semi-final battle with Melbourne United so well, the Phoenix have hit the 2021/22 season motivated and all of that was on display at John Cain Arena on Saturday night.

It was a tough night for the Breakers who came in minus coach Dan Shamir and key players Tom Abercrombie and Yanni Wetzell, and they just couldn’t get going with two points in the first five minutes and a scoreless opening half from superstar forward Finn Delany.

It was a night to celebrate for South East Melbourne, though, with new import Xavier Munford the standout. He put on quite the show from the outset to win over the hearts of the local fans instantly with his shooting, his dynamic athleticism and his showmanship.

Munford ended up with 27 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals on shooting 11/18 from the field and 4/6 from beyond the arc.

He was far from the only star though. Dane Pineau was a difference-maker on the glass on his return after virtually missing all of last season. 

He had two points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block while fellow big man Zhou Qi wowed the fans as the Chinese superstar delivered eight points, five rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes.

Mitch Creek added 19 points with Cam Gliddon putting up nine points, Izaya Le'afa eight and Ryan Broekhoff seven.

There was plenty for Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell to be pleased with post-match.

"The guys were fantastic. They were really locked in and I'm sure we are going to watch the tape back and find some things in the second half we can do better," Mitchell said.

"We went iso ball there for a little while and had to make some changes, and a couple of guys didn’t play particularly well, but from a team standpoint I'm really pleased. 

"The defensive intensity was good, rim protection was great, we had active hands, deflections and all the things you ask for from your basketball team. They produced that tonight so I'm pretty pleased."

Mody Maor might be waiting for a head coaching chance having worked under Shamir for a long time, it wasn’t the coaching debut he hoped for and he even copped a tech foul in the fourth quarter with the game done.

Delany still ended up top-scoring with 18 points for New Zealand all coming in the second half to go with nine rebounds.

Peyton Siva added 11 points and three assists, Hugo Besson 10 points and two assists, and Kyrin Galloway 10 points and six rebounds on the back of several impressive throwdowns.

It was a tough night for Maor to assume the head coaching role but he does hope Shamir is back with the group as of Monday along with centre Yanni Wetzell.

"No it wasn’t (what we were hoping for)," Maor said.

"We knew there was a chance it could play out this way, we'd be a step slower because of all the excuses that we can throw at it. 

"But honestly we were hoping for something better and I believe this group has a lot more in it. Hopefully we will show that next week."

It only took three minutes for the Phoenix to assume control and lead 6-2 with Dane Pineau pulling in five quick rebounds. 

Three of them were offensive and with the Breakers scoring just two points in the opening five minutes, South East Melbourne was already on top when Zhou Qi entered and scored two quick buckets. 

The Phoenix closed the quarter with a three to Cam Gliddon and bucket to Mitch Creek to be in control 17-11.

That turned into a 14-0 run when the home team hit the first seven points of the second term capped off with a Tohi Smith-Milner three with the score 24-11.

The Breakers eventually stopped the slide with a couple of trips to the line from Peyton Siva and Kyrin Galloway, but then Pineau scored on an offensive board and New Zealand coughed up the inbounds pass for a Ryan Broekhoff layup.

Triples to Isayah Le'afa and Xavier Munford topped off the 44-23 half for the Phoenix with Munford delivering 13 points and Pineau seven boards as they shot 52 per cent from the floor opposed to 23 from New Zealand who also went 1/14 from deep.

There was signs of life from the Breakers to open the second half with seven quick points including three balls from Finn Delany and Hugo Besson, but it wouldn’t last and the Phoenix were soon back up over 20.

It became the Xavier Munford show and when his induvial run of 9-0 was topped with a four-point play, he had already won the Heartland fans over and the Phoenix had this season-opener in the bag going on to win by 24.

The two teams now do it all over again on Friday night also at John Cain Arena.


SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 89 (Munford 27, Creek 19, Gliddon 9)

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 65 (Delany 18, Siva 11, Galloway 10, Besson 10)



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