Those never-say-die Wollongong Hawks are a step closer to a top four finish, winning their fourth straight game with tonight’s crushing 88-68 defeat of three-time reigning champions New Zealand at WIN Entertainment Centre.
After failing to beat the Breakers in three previous attempts, Wollongong would not be denied a fourth time.
The Hawks’ 10th win of the season lifted them into fifth spot with five games remaining.
Guard Rotnei Clarke continued his recent hot streak with a game-high 28 points, while four other Hawks finshed in double figures.
Wollongong pulverised the Breakers under the boards (41 rebounds to 31) and made 43 per cent of their shots in contrast to 39 per cent for New Zealand.
Decked out in retro blue and gold jerseys to commemorate the club’s inaugural season, the Hawks got the job done without injured import Kevin Tiggs.
The Breakers briefly threatened to take control early in the fourth quarter when they drew to within five points.
But Wollongong were too good, delighting the crowd of 2444.
The home side stunned the visitors in the opening two-and a-half minutes, bolting to an 8-0 lead and forcing coach Dean Vickerman to burn an early time-out.
New Zealand scored the next five points before Wollongong responded with an 11-5 run.
Clarke was scoring inside and outside, while Dave Gruber was typically efficient in the paint.
But fouls soon became an issue for the Hawks, as Larry Davidson and Oscar Forman picked up two apiece.
The Breakers sensed an opening, cutting the deficit to three at quarter-time.
Clarke had nine points and Gruber added four.
Breakers forward Mika Vukona was a human whirlwind, tallying six points, six rebounds and two assists.
Veteran guard CJ Bruton marked his final appearance in Wollongong, copping a blow to the hea which drew blood.
Baskets were hard to come by at both ends, but the Breakers patiently chipped away, taking their first lead of the game at 25-23 on Casey Frank’s reverse lay-up.
The Hawks returned serve, scoring the next five points for a 28-25 lead with three minutes left in the half.
Defence was the story of the second period, as the game all but ground to a halt.
Wollongong scored most of their points from the free throw line, pushing the lead back up to nine.
But they dropped their guard in the final 40 seconds, allowing the Breakers to peel off back to back baskets to make it 35-30 at half-time.
The Hawks made just 4/14 shots in the second quarter, yet they pulled down 21 rebounds in the half compared to 14 for New Zealand and out-scored them 20-12 on points in the paint.
Clarke didn’t add to his points tally, while Tim Coenraad boosted his total to eight and Gruber had six.
Both teams struggled from three-point range; Wollongong hitting just 1/12 attempts and the Breakers slightly better at 2/11.
Clarke re-ignited in the third period and the margin swelled to 13.
Wollongong maintained the upper hand, though Bruton’s long-range buzzer-beater made it 61-52 with a quarter to play.
The Breakers applied the blowtorch, cutting the margin to five early in the final period.
But the Hawks showed no signs of buckling, keeping their finals hopes well and truly alive.
Wollongong will be seeking their fifth successive victory when they host Adelaide next Friday.