Forward pair Todd Blanchfield and Brian Conklin combined for 47 points to lead the Illawarra Hawks to Friday night’s inspired 107-96 comeback victory over the New Zealand Breakers at WIN Entertainment Centre.
Illawarra were behind at every change before outscoring the Breakers 34-11 in the final quarter to claim their 10th win of the season and stay in the finals race.
Jordair Jett and AJ Ogilvy scored 14 points apiece off the bench for the Hawks, while four-time Olympian David Andersen added 10.
“Our last four games are as good as we’ve played. We had this game circled. They kicked our arse [in Round 10] and we hadn’t beaten them, but now we’ve beaten every team in the league,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said.
“That gives us confidence going into play Melbourne and Cairns next week. Nobody talks good about us but that’s OK. There’s no pressure on us at all. We have to play gritty, proactive basketball and if we do that we can beat Melbourne in Melbourne.”
Jarrad Weeks led New Zealand with 22 points and forward Tom Abercrombie finished with 20. But 18 of Weeks’ points came by half-time as the Hawks shut down his looks in the second half.
“We broke down in the last five minutes. We couldn’t hold our composure. They made plays, we didn’t. We got stagnant,” said Breakers coach Kevin Braswell.
“We knew coming in how it is playing here and just how having a lead isn’t enough here. This isn’t the first time these guys have done this in this arena.
“To score 11 points in the last quarter after scoring whenever we wanted to in the first three quarters, you just can’t have that, not with two teams fighting for the playoffs.”
The Breakers were firmly on course for their ninth win for most of the night before collapsing in crunch time. They faced an early setback with dynamic centre Shawn Long heading to the bench with two quick fouls.
Illawarra took advantage of Long’s absence in the middle, dominating the visitors under the glass en route to a five-point lead midway through the opening period.
But Weeks, Patrick Richard and Finn Delaney combined for 15 points off the bench and Abercrombie drilled a three in the dying moments for a 27-22 quarter-time lead.
Despite limited input from the normally productive frontcourt duo of Long and Tai Wesley, the Breakers kept the upper hand in the second period, raining down threes for a 41-35 lead with four minutes left in the half.
Blanchfield’s hot shooting kept the Hawks close but they couldn’t contain a red-hot Weeks, who hit his first six shots for 15 points before air-balling a three-point attempt.
Weeks atoned two minutes later with his fourth triple of the half, while New Zealand 9/16 made from downtown as a team for a 52-47 half-time lead.
Blanchfield paced the Hawks with 17 and Conklin complemented his 10 points with five boards and three assists.
The Breakers’ continued to punish Illawarra from the perimeter, extending the margin to nine. Abercrombie was in the ‘zone’, while Long finally came to the party with nine points in the third period.
Blanchfield and Conklin kept the scoreboard ticking over for Illawarra, but Weeks punctuated his return to the fray with a runaway dunk before Richard splashed back to back threes for an 85-73 three quarter-time lead.
A three pushed the margin out to 15 but that’s where the party stopped for the Breakers and started for the Hawks.
They completely dominated the final eight minutes, turning a double-digit deficit into an incredible double-digit victory.
The Breakers remain on the road heading up to Cairns to play on Monday night while the Hawks are next in action on Wednesday in the Australian Open contest with Melbourne United.
• Illawarra won their 10th game of the season and remain sixth on the ladder
• New Zealand led by as many as 15 points early in the fourth quarter but were outscored 34-8 over the final nine minutes
• Hawks 23-point win in the fourth quarter was the most one-sided quarter by any team in any game this season
• Illawarra dished out an NBL league-high 30 assists
• Jarrad Weeks scored a new career-best 22 points for the Breakers
• Todd Blanchfield’s 27 points was the most by any Hawks player in Wollongong this season
• It was the first time in franchise history the Breakers had made 16 three-pointers in a losing game
NBL ROUND 14
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 107 (Blanchfield 27, Conklin 20, Ogilvy 14, Jett 14)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 96 (Weeks 22, Abercrombie 20, Long 17)