NBL1 Men Round 3: Tigers escape the Spectres’ surge

Written by Aiden Box.
Cover image from Mick Connolly.

The Melbourne Tigers have won a thriller at MSAC, downing the surging Nunawading by just three points last Thursday night on the back of a strong performance from Jack Purchase. 

The Tigers came out firing in front of a bumper home crowd and did not disappoint them, led beautifully by Mason Gaze and Jack Purchase who got things underway early in the first. 

Gaze, who was quite clearly a crowd favourite, was the catalyst for Melbourne’s supreme first half, creating quality looks on offence and disruptions on defence. 

Gaze was fantastic in the opening stanza, igniting Tigers breaks and even pulling off some highlight plays to have the stadium rocking and his teammates fed off him really well. 

Michael Wearne and Taj Chehhal began to assert themselves, feeding off that energy and this saw the Tigers storm through the first term to open up a 16-point lead at quarter time. 

This only grew in the second as the home side flexed their muscle, running some scintillating plays and really gelling in what was really a complete first half of basketball. 

They finished the half in style with a Purchase throwdown and a clutch three in the last few minutes to go into the rooms with a 23-point buffer. 

This had the Tigers looking well on their way to a blowout win, but instead, the game flipped on its head in the third period. 

Behind some inspired play from Kingsley Box, the Spectres rallied and began to beat the Tigers at their own game, as momentum switched sides completely. 

Box was doing it all, scoring the ball inside and out and even getting up for a dunk of his own to see his side surge back into contention, winning the third quarter by ten points, cutting the lead from 23 to 13 at the final quarter break. 

The Spectres were also boosted by the exciting hot shooting of Jalen Gibbs who showed his impressive range throughout the third. 

The hosts were rattled to begin the fourth and committed multiple turnovers to see the Spectres roar all the way back into the game and get within a bucket, it was an instant classic. 

They marched back into contention with a 10 – two run in the final three minutes, but the Tigers finally came alive again, soaking up the pressure, Gaze found Wearne who lifted and finished in heavy traffic to put the hosts up six with under two minutes to play. 

But the Spectres run wasn’t over yet, grabbing several offensive rebounds, this time after some extensive court mopping, a huge three from Box cut it to three. 

Then, after a missed Tigers miss, Box backed it up with an offensive rebound which allowed Gibbs to finish inside and bring them within one point with less then 40 seconds on the clock, forcing a Melbourne timeout. 

Desperate to find some composure the Tigers turned to their legendary head coach Andrew Gaze, who instilled a breadth of confidence and calm upon them that could be felt around the arena.

The Tigers emerged from the huddle with 38 seconds on the clock and a one-point lead, composed under Gaze’s direction and were able to run a play ending in a missed shot from Wearne but Callan McDonald battled for the rebound and forced it out of bounds off of Nunawading, igniting the crowd in jubilation. 

The Spectres, now down a point with just 12 seconds left, were forced to foul Purchase, who’s 19th and 20th points at the line sealed it the win for Melbourne after a late couple of threes missed on the other end for the visitors.

The Tigers pulled out the win thanks to some clutch play from Chehhal, Gaze and Wearne and some excellent late-game free throws from Purchase.

Box took home the ANZAC medal, finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds, while Jack Purchase top-scored for Melbourne with 20.