Stephen Holt is fast gaining the trust of coach Dean Demopoulos as Melbourne United’s go-to man in late-game situations.
The 24-year-old import point guard came up big down the stretch once again for United in Sunday’s 89-86 win over a never-say-die Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League at Hisense Arena.
With the 36ers mounting an impressive comeback, cutting a 15-point deficit down to two on the back of stellar play from speedy guard Jermone Randle, Holt steadied the ship with a number of huge plays in the dying minutes to ensure United returned to the winners circle after Thursday’s ugly loss to the Illawarra Hawks.
Holt did it all when the game was on the line, displaying assured ball handling skills, draining a three-pointer and showing his cool at the free throw line, but it was a highlight reel scoop lay up that got most of the 9000-strong crowd out of their seats.
“It was a trick shot, a tough shot,” Holt said. “The guy was on my hip, I knew their big were going to come over and try and block it, so I did a little scoop shot underneath instead of just coming up normally.
“It was an instinct play per se and it went in.
“I just wanted to be aggressive down the stretch to give my team what it needed.”
Holt’s all-round game is one of the best in the NBL.
The numbers he racked up on his birthday against the 36ers back that up: 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three three-pointers.
He is showing Australian crowds why he was first team all-West Coast Conference at Saint Mary’s College in the US and a summer leaguer with the Atlanta Hawks.
A lot of what Holt provides does not translate on the stat sheet, but has a significant influence over United’s results.
Admittedly, Randle was the 36ers star of the second half, finishing with 25 points, but Holt’s defence kept him scoreless until midway through the second period and that was crucial to the result.
“He’s pretty shifty, you have to be real patient on defence,” Holt said. “You can’t reach, you can’t jump and there were stretches where I thought I did a pretty good job in the first half, but all great players, once they hit that one shot, they’re going come back again and that’s what he did.”
Holt’s energy, leadership and toughness are a real driving force behind United’s success.
Demopoulos saw that enthusiasm for the contest shine through on Thursday night when Holt suited up for the Hawks game after a limited preparation due to an eye infection.
“This kid didn’t touch a basketball for six days prior to that last game and had to go out and play a hell of a player in [Kevin] Lisch,” Demopoulos said. “We don’t talk about this stuff here, you haven’t heard me use anything like that and I won’t, but the fact he put the time in over the last couple of days to try and get back his preparation was what made tonight possible for him and us.
“What you see is what you get with this one.”
Holt believes there will be no lasting effects from his eye injury.
He is too focused on the next game to worry about it anyway.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “It’s just a weird contact allergy thing and other than that I think I’ve got it under control.
“It’s in the past.”
Holt saw United take a giant step in the right direction when they staved off the 36ers late on.
He has seen in previous matches that United had dropped their bundle when teams have made a run at them.
“A couple of games earlier [against] New Zealand and Cairns, we kind of put our heads down coming back to the huddle instead of regrouping and recharging and that just comes down to the leadership on this team,” he said. “I think we grew tonight.”
So far so good for United, sitting on top with an 11-4 record.
They have, however, been a little shaky in recent weeks, a point not lost on Holt.
“We won nine games in a row [at the start of the season], but we’re not the champions, we haven’t hung a banner yet and until we do that we’ve still got to grow and play as one and all in and I think we did that down the stretch [against the 36ers],” he said.
United will face second-placed Perth Wildcats in a blockbuster at the Perth Arena on Thursday night.
NBL – Round 9
Melbourne United 89 (Goulding 19, Majok 15, Holt, Warrick 14) d Adelaide 36ers 86 (Randle 25, Petrie 14, Gibson, Ere 12).
Star Weekly’s best …
Stephen Holt (Melbourne United): You could toss a coin between Holt and Jerome Randle for the game’s MVP, but Holt was the most consistent four-quarter performer on the court and pivotal to his side’s success with a well-rounded game.
Jerome Randle (Adelaide 36ers): Wow. What Randle did in the same half was simply breathtaking. Almost single-handedly dragged the 36ers back into the contest with 25 points, all scored in the final two and a half quarters, to go with six assists.
Chris Goulding (Melbourne United): An efficient game for the star shooting guard, scoring 19 points on 8-14 shooting and three triples. More importantly, he just hustled for every loose ball and sparked his team when they needed it.