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By: Grant Chapman, Pagemasters
The New Zealand Breakers found yet another way to stretch their NBL winning streak, edging the Wollongong Hawks 72-71 at the North Shore Events Centre.
Down by 12 points soon after half-time, the two-time defending champions rallied back to survive a nail-biting final minute, where a solitary free throw from Mika Vukona with 20 seconds remaining proved the difference.
Trailing by two points with 3.8 seconds on the clock, American Adris Deleon had free throws to force overtime, but missed his second attempt and Wollongong could not regain possession for another chance.
Deleon led all scorers with 34 points for the Hawks, but New Zealand benefitted from a very balanced scorecard, led by Tom Abercrombie’s 15 points.
The win was their sixth in a row and they move further clear at the top of the table with a 14-3 record.
Wollongong, playing without injured guards Rhys Martin and American Lance Hurdle, gained a little edge early in the second quarter, when Tyson Demos and Oscar Forman stroked consecutive three-pointers to spark a 10-2 run. By halftime, their advantage had stretched to seven, as the visitors proved accurate from the free-throw line.
Deleon was penetrating at will and often finding his bigs open under the basket, as defenders rotated. Auryn Macmillan came off the bench to intimidate the Breakers around the basket defensively, while chipping in nine points of his own.
The Breakers were typically scratchy through the opening 20 minutes, shooting just 32% from the floor
The margin stretched into double figures after the restart, when Deleon hit a three and then converted a steal into an open-court layup.
But the hosts upped their defensive intensity and began to find points easier to come by, reeling off 10 straight to close the deficit and eventually drawing level with a Tom Abercrombie three.
By the end of the third quarter, the scores were tied, but the Breakers had wrested away the advantage. When Jackson stole the ball and lobbed it for an Abercrombie dunk, they were six points clear and running.
Wollongong was not going to surrender the game that easily, though, and battled down the stretch, with veteran Larry Davidson scoring seven points in the final moments.
New Zealand Breakers 72 (Abercrombie 15, Pledger 12, Jackson 10)
Wollongong Hawks 71 (Deleon 34, Forman 12, Macmillan 11)