Fans may have had their eyes peeled on one of the best ballers of all time, but on the court it was all about the Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers on Saturday night.
Even with the coaching expertise of Australian legend Andrew Gaze, the Melbourne Tigers could not compete with a well-drilled Pioneers outfit in a one-sided NBL1 South battle.
In a game declared as a “must win” by Mount Gambier coach Richard Hill, the hosts delivered by controlling the scoreboard from tip off to the final buzzer.
New import Clevon brown won the jumpball and then completed a block which helped setup Michael Harris’ game-opening basket.
If that was not enough to get the crowd going, Brown took it to the next level and slammed an Alley Oop to help the Pioneers send a statement.
Some fine work from Dogukan Elyazar helped the Tigers cut the margin down to two, but the hosts responded through Tom Kubank to establish a 16-11 lead by quarter time.
The Pioneers than cut loose after the break with a match-sealing passage of play.
Kubank, Nick Marshall, Brown, Michael Harris and even Tom Daly all had their moments around the ring as Mount Gambier outscored Melbourne 25-8 across 10 destructive minutes.
The Pioneers were particularly devastating scoring from the paint and turnovers as Brown dominated the rebounds.
With a comfortable 41-19 lead, Mount Gambier kept its foot on the gas with Kane de Wit and Jordan Rawls throwing their hats into the ring.
The Tigers could also not keep Harris quiet with the first-year Pioneer finding his zone around the three-point line.
Even after three-quarter time, Gaze’s men struggled to contain Mount Gambier’s scoring options from all over the court.
Erik Burdon and Rawls got the final term off to a flying start to pump the Pioneers to a game-high lead of 38 points.
However, Gaze’s endless expertise started to shine on the court as the Tigers fought back and enjoyed some success in the closing stages.
Melbourne managed to draw level with Mount Gambier in the final term with Michael Wearne being the team leader with 18 points, double the amount of his next best teammate.
Despite the slightly slower finish, the Pioneers still cruised to a convincing 88-56 win and were able to get 10 players on court.
Mount Gambier’s scoring spread was impressive with Marshall, Harris, Brown, Kubank, de Wit and Rawls all getting double figures.
Although Percy the penguin was joyfully dancing to the Pioneers’ victory song, most of the crowds attention was directed at the defeated coach Gaze, who was full of praise for the home team and was extremely generous with his time towards the big crowd which made it a night to remember for many.