By Murray Mckinnon
The SKYCITY Breakers let a much needed win against the Illawarra Hawks slip from their grasp in a double overtime thriller at Vector Arena on Sunday.
With the score at 80-77 with seconds remaining in regulation time, Mika Vukona stepped up for two free throws which he missed. Then instead of immediately fouling, the Breakers left Cody Ellis clear to launch a three pointer that sank locking the score up at 80 all and sending the game into overtime.
Cory Webster hit a three at the start of the next five minutes of play but Kevin Lisch responded for the Hawks with a couple from the charity stripe a field goal and a three. Tai Wesley came back with four points and Charles Jackson had the Breakers ahead by two only to have Lisch sneak in for a lay up to lock the scores at 89 apiece.
Lisch immediately sunk a three with Webster responding. Lisch then came into his own at the free throw line with six points and despite Webster gaining another two from the free throw Jarrad Weeks delivered the final nail in the coffin with two from the charity stripe to give the Hawks a 103-96 victory.
Coach of the Breakers Dean Vickerman was not impressed with his team’s play in the final seconds of regular time.
“We struggle as a coaching staff just to get past the last ten seconds of regulation and we broke a team rule, when we had the opportunity to foul and that’s what we do in that situation and we didn’t and you pay the price for it to allow them to get a three that was contested and everything, but they shouldn’t even be shooting that basketball it should be shooting two right now (from the free throw) instead of making that three and going into overtime. We talk about it, we made improvements, we did some things better, but that’s just totally against who we are and what we believe in and what our rules are as a team and I thought we had about three opportunities to get it done to foul, they made three passes so that’s where we lost the game.”
After three previous losses to the Hawks this season the Breakers came out with a vengeance and dominated the first quarter to lead 32-24. Tai Wesley was on target from the perimeter and Alex Pledger was superb under the post with eight points in quick succession.
“We were well prepared for the game and for whatever they threw at us and it took three games to get well prepared for this team because they do change things a lot and do disrupt and do a lot of different things.
“There were so many things we did better especially just the intent to start with and I thought our organisation was great I thought the boys were huddling, we played at a pace we like to play at and got good contributions from a lot of people and we just seemed like we were really together and on point and again to me it’s just a shame that we spoilt it for it with that one play,” said Vickerman.
The Breakers went to the break leading 53-48 and were still leading at the three quarter 71-65, but then the Hawks got on top of the game in the fourth to come back with a run of ten unanswered points.
Coach of the Hawks Rob Beveridge said they have been working on their defence in recent weeks and that’s what got then there in the end.
“The Breakers dictated the whole first quarter it was their quarter they came out and that’s what I was expecting the Breakers to do. For us to have three games of 20 plus point wins I was shocked with that and thinking to myself we’re going to come to an arena that’s going to be loud (attendance 6309) and they’re going to throw everything at us and they did that and I thought they were the better team early but once we started to actually play some great defence I thought we were very very good and I look at some of the shots that Abercrombie made and Webster they were late on the clock right on the buzzer and we can’t do much about that but we made them really work for it and as the game went on obviously we shut them down from our defence which is what we have been working on. The first half of the season we were very average and so I’m pretty pleased with that,” he said.
“It was a hell of a game, I don’t know what the fans expect but that was just a wow factor for fans watching, it was a battle, it was a real grind it was an arm wrestle, there was some great basketball out there. It was almost the survival of the fittest at the end, just look at the body language of the players how bad it was. So it came down to that mental grind and what we’re looking forward to is if we’re going to make the play offs that’s the type of grind it’s going to be and I think we ticked the box on that tonight,” added Beveridge.
Vickerman said they were aware of the challenge going into the game.
“We went into the game talking about the challenge we had in front of us how you want to beat every team in the League and to not have done that this year that hurts us as a group in that we couldn’t quite find a way to beat everyone in this League and I hope we get another opportunity to,” he said.
Vickerman did however acknowledge the win by Illawarra.
“They’re a good team and they kept fighting they never give up and they showed why they are one of the best teams in the League tonight the way they kept fighting back.”
Lisch who had a career high of 40 points said it was an enjoyable game.
“That was a long game, it was enjoyable just in the fact that there were so many ups and downs throughout the game. You think you lose, you think you win, it just goes back and forth and both teams just played really hard and we’re fortunate enough down the stretch to hit some big shots, Cody (Ellis) hit some huge shots for us. It was just a fun win which really we needed.”
The Sunshine Swing is coming up for the Breakers (Townsville on Thursday and Cairns on Saturday) and Vickerman said that the team has to start to show that they are a playoff team after suffering four straight losses.
Beveridge feels that the Breakers will make the playoffs.
“This is a winning Club it’s as simple as that. I’ve no doubt and I’ve always said that Perth and New Zealand are the two best teams and for us actually beating four zero in the series is just amazing it really is and don’t think anybody would ever think that Illawarra could do that. But the Breakers they’re champions, they know how to win, they’ve got a group out there and I know that they’ll be fighting their backsides off for the playoffs for sure.”
Webster top scored for the Breakers with 22, Cedric Jackson 18 and Alex Pledger and Tom Abercrombie scored 12. Lisch’s 40 was backed up with 18 from Ellis, 15 from Andrew Ogilvy and 14 from Kirk Penney who did not play the fourth quarter.
“Kirk Penney cramped up pretty bad (in the hamstring) in that final quarter and the thing is at the end of the day he’s 35 years of age and we’ve still got lots of games ahead of us. This game tonight of course we want to win but I don’t want to put our players long term future in doubt so we pulled him and we’ll get treatment for him and the last thing we’ll do is rush him back, if it is anything worse than a cramp or strain whatever it might be,” said Beveridge.