By Asa Schuster, Pagemasters
A bruising fourth-quarter stand by the New Zealand Breakers handed the Wollongong Hawks a 91-74 defeat at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Saturday.
The Breakers led by just two points entering the final term, but immediately put the clamps on the Hawks during a runaway 23-8 quarter to notch their ninth straight win.
Cedric Jackson led New Zealand with 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, while Leon Henry hurt Wollongong with some timely baskets as part of his 14 points in just 14 minutes of court time.
"He's been growing with us over the last couple of years and he can shoot it," Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said of Henry.
"He's just starting to find his rhythm now and starting to find his confidence, he gets into the right spots and he's knocking them down."
Adris Deleon connected on his first five attempts on his way to a game-high haul of 24 points, while the Hawks' new import Malcolm Grant was impressive in stints, finishing with 10 points and four assists in 26 minutes.
Incredibly, the injured-riddled Hawks were dealt another blow when Glen Saville was forced to leave the game with a knee injury in the first quarter.
"It's going to take some time for us to get in synch and go," Hawks Gordie McLeod said.
"The thing we have to be pleased about is that we fought hard, we hung in there and we're battling away but that fourth-quarter, the onslaught of the three-point shots and the points in the paint, that just broke our back."
"That's the depth that they've (New Zealand) got across the whole roster, they're just relentless where they can just bring guys in and keep sending guys at you."
New Zealand used a 12-4 run to close the first quarter with a 22-19 edge, CJ Bruton sparking the surge with consecutive threes, while Will Hudson rose above the congested key for a spectacular tip-jam.
The Breakers led by as much as 11 early in the second stanza, but behind Grant the Hawks rallied back and eventually locked the scores at 41-41 on a 28-foot three-point heave by Deleon to beat the shot-clock.
Jackson then shut down the half in style with a scorching individual run of eight consecutive points, featuring a pair of triples to have the visitors up 49-43 at the break.
The Breakers continually found answers to stifle the Hawks during the third period, but Wollongong eventually chipped away from the free-throw line in the final two minutes to shave the deficit to just two (68-66).
Wollongong suffered a horrific scoring drought in the first five minutes of the fourth, by the time Deleon snapped the spell with a free-throw, the Breakers had built a hefty 82-66 lead and seized control of the game.
New Zealand Breakers 91 (Jackson 18, Henry 14, Corletto 11)
Wollongong Hawks 74 (Deleon 24, Grant 10, Forman 10)
Crowd: 3534 at WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong