GALLERY: Gritty Hawks squeeze champs

BREAKERS 72 vs HAWKS 71

They were injury-ravaged, unwanted outsiders but Wollongong Hawks took NBL champions New Zealand Breakers to the brink in a 72-71 road loss on Thursday night.

Just six days after losing starting guards Lance Hurdle and Rhys Martin to season-ending knee injuries and with a new backcourt combination,  the Hawks went within a free throw of forcing the NBL leaders into overtime.

Adris Deleon, promoted to the starting five, missed his second free throw to tie the game with 3.8seconds remaining after Wollongong trailed 69-64 in the final two minutes.

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Deleon, desperately out-of-form in a Hawks run of six losses in seven games, was back to his early season devastating best, knocking down 34 points on 13/24 shooting.

Wollongong led 37-30 at half-time and 42-30 early in the third term before the Breakers rallied to tie the game 53-53 heading into the final term.

The Kiwis led by up to six points (61-55) in the fourth quarter  before Wollongong twice  tied the game, until a Tom Abercrombie three and Daryl Corletto jump shot gave the Breakers a 69-64 advantage.

Despite being $6 outsiders on SportsTAB, Larry Davidson’s three-pointer cut the deficit to just three late on, and with 3.8 seconds remaining Deleon had the chance from the foul line to almost certainly take the game into overtime.

He  swished his first free throw, but the second rimmed out.

Hawks legend Glen Saville celebrated his 37th birthday on the day he set the Wollongong games record of 525 appearances.

Hawks skipper Oscar Forman had 12 points, while Auryn MacMillan (11 points) contributed off the bench and Tyson Demos relished his starting five promotion with a terrific defensive effort on the Breakers League MVP favourite Cedric Jackson (10 points).

The Hawks remain fourth (8-8) and continue a 7000-kilometre double road trip by heading to Townsville to take on the last-placed Crocodiles (5-11) tomorrow night.

The victory was the New Zealand team’s sixth in a row.

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