It’s been a tough few weeks for South East Melbourne Phoenix, but star recruit Zhou Qi has stepped up yet again. The NBL rookie star was last night given Play of the Game yet again, with 17 points and 7 rebounds as SEM narrowly lost out to Melbourne rivals United. The Phoenix threw everything at United but fell at the final hurdle after failing to hold on to a double-digit lead, going down 90-88. “King Qi” as he is called by Phoenix teammate Mitch Creek came out like a man on a mission, scoring the first six points of the game for Phoenix and reaching double figures before the end of the first quarter with a variety of dunks, lay-ups and low post moves that would have made Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon proud. Big @officialzhouqi on fire early with our first 6️⃣ points of the game 🔥🔥🔥 📺 Tune in on @ESPNAusNZ via @kayosports or @Foxtel pic.twitter.com/4NVACS9PKY — South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) April 7, 2022 But the Phoenix turned it over three times in the first two and a half minutes and that was the difference at the first break as United led 29-24. SEM guard Xavier Munford sparked the comeback in the second, scoring eight points in quick time, before Creek awoke from his slumber, pouring in eight of his own – including the last four of the half – to put the Phoenix in front, 46-45. The trio of Creek, Zhou and Munford each had double digits at the break, while Brandon Ashley provided a punch off the bench with seven. Phoenix started the second half as it did the game – hitting big and Zhou did not disappoint, with another bucket to give Phoenix a double-digit lead. But top-of-the-table United had the composure to take it out late. Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said his team battled hard, but the same issues reared their head down the stretch. Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said the heartbreaking loss was a hard pill to swallow. “We’ve got a lot to play for. We’ve only won one of our past eight games, but we’ve been in every one of them. For us it’s clearly a motivation to continue to get better, to try to arrest the issues we face and move forward,” he said. “We’ve got a ton of motivation, this isn’t a situation where all is lost, we’ve thrown in the kit bag and said that’s enough for us, we’re fighting our tails off. “The effort was there, I thought the guys scrapped, but we’ve got to be composed, we’ve got to be able to execute under duress – and we aren’t.” Both teams have short turnarounds and will be in action again Sunday, as United face Cairns and Phoenix head to Bendigo for a date with New Zealand. For Zhou, it’s another feather in his NBL cap, having won several Player of the Game nominations, in addition to being shortlisted for the NBL’s Best Defensive Player award, alongside veteran Will Magnay and Orlando Magic guard Tahjere McCall. Last month Zhou was named as part of the Chinese Basketball Association’s national team for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.