From Murray McKinnon
The Breakers shrugged off the pre-season blues to capture an early season scalp in beating Melbourne United 76-71.
The Breakers led 17-16 at the end of the first quarter and then went on a three point shooting spree courtesy of Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie and newcomers Robert Loe and Ben Woodside. The ‘Chief’ made a couple of mid range jumpers to give the local team a 40-31 advantage going into the second half.
The third quarter was all Melbourne with former Breakers Cedric Jackson and Tai Wesley scoring inside and out. David Andersen and Ramone Moore also slotted in three pointers to put Melbourne ahead 52-48.
The Breakers responded in the final ten minutes in front of a crowd of 5639. Outstanding defensive work from Rob Loe and Akil Mitchell plus offensive output from Kirk Penny and Webster fuelled a 15 point Breakers run. However Wesley and Chris Goulding hit back to bring Melbourne within three points with less than two minutes remaining.
Melbourne desperate for possession and time their enemy were forced to foul sending Abercrombie, Mika Vukona and Woodside to the free throw line which converted into the Breakers final nine points and hold United at bay.
Paul Henare was pleased with the victory in his first time up as head coach in the Australian NBL.
“I’m really happy with the result, good to see all the guys on the floor and seeing the chemistry start to build. It is one game out of 28 and we’re going to enjoy it and move on,” said Henare.
“We didn’t play anyone over 30 minutes everyone got a decent hit out, the bigs worked extremely well together we’ve got four really good bigs there that we just keep rolling them in and you have confidence that they come in and do the job.”
Henare was not put off facing Melbourne in their first game on the season.
“Our belief in ourselves never wavered we knew we were facing a very good side and we knew we had to play some very good basketball to beat them and that’s what I’m proud of.”
The newcomers slotted in well in their debuts for the team.
“Rob Loe, he’s smart he knows the game he knows who he is as a player and you develop a level of trust because you just know what you are going to get out of Robbie and tonight he played out of his skin he was physical inside he battled on the boards and when he was on the floor the score was going the right way,” said Henare.
American point guard Woodside said that he has moulded well into the team.
“Adapting into the game is pretty simple when you have been playing basketball your whole life and for me it’s been smooth and I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” he said.
He also enjoyed his match up with Jackson, “He’s a great player and you’ve got to respect a guy like that who’s a winner and it’s great to go against a player like that.”
Jackson on the other had said it was weird playing against the Breakers for the first time.
“It was pretty weird, but as soon as the jump ball came up I just focussed and tried to get rolling.
“This game was a good learning lesson for us as a new group and we took a lot of positives out of this game, just minor tune-ups and I think we’ll be alright,” said Jackson.
Melbourne coach Dean Demopolous knows what it is like to lose at Vector Arena ( going down 78-91 to the Breakers seven months ago in last season’s semi-final).
“New Zealand played a hell of a game tonight and I thought we played well also, somebody’s got to lose it’s us tonight and hopefully on Sunday (United entertain Adelaide) it’s the other team,” said Demopolous.
“We lost, but I think we are going to be a very good team. It’s a work in progress, I’ve got a bunch of new faces, but I love our energy and I’ve loved it for a long time.”
Demopolous was pleased with his two former Breakers players Ced and Tai.
“They’ve been terrific, great attitudes, they work hard every day, they come early, stay late, they’re men not kids and I respect them and value their opinions and judgement on things especially their play. As they assimilate into this group as David Anderson is and Ramone Moore I see a lot of good things happening for Melbourne United.”
Abercrombie top scored for the Breakers with 14, Vukona had 12 and Webster 11. Wesley led the scorers for Melbourne with 15 (in just 14 minutes), Jackson was on 14 and Moore, Andersen and Goulding all contributed nine points.