Basketball: Sweet 16 for Breakers

By Kris Shannon

Corey Webster had a career best 23 points. Photo / Richard Robinson
Corey Webster had a career best 23 points. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Breakers celebrated their final home game of the regular season by doing the same thing they have all campaign - winning.

The three-time minor premiers easily accounted the Melbourne Tigers at the North Shore Events Centre tonight, scoring a season-high in points and securing a 16th straight victory.

The 114-84 win equalled the second-best win streak in Australian NBL history sitting five short of Brisbane's 2007 winning run and moves to Breakers' record to 24-3 ahead of their season-ending game in Perth next Friday.

By the time the presumptive grand finalists meet for that curtain-raiser, it will be more than 100 days since the Breakers last tasted defeat. And it's even longer since their last defeat in New Zealand coming way back on the opening night of the season against Perth.

They were at their unbeatable best tonight, with Tom Abercrombie draining a season-high 24 points and Corey Webster even more impressive in smashing his career-best in a Breakers singlet with 23.

Reigning ANBL player of the week Alex Pledger also grabbed a career-high 22 points and chimed in with 12 rebounds, while Cedric Jackson snatched his 75th steal of the season to break the club-record he set last season.

About the only downside for the defending champions was a worrying-looking injury to Mika Vukona. The forward went down awkwardly on his right ankle in the first quarter and failed to return, but the injury was ruled a sprain and coach Andrej Lemanis revealed after the game the player was eager to play on.

"It was concerning when he went down because he's such a tough kid,'' Lemanis said.

"Most of the time you expect him to get up and keep playing, so when he wasn't able to do that obviously you have concerns at this stage of the year.''

This stage of year is, of course, the playoffs, which begin at Vector Arena on March 28. Which meant this was the last game of the season at the NSEC and the Breakers began seemingly determined to send off their home gym in style.

Tom Abercrombie completed no fewer than three alley-oops from Cedric Jackson lob passes in the opening minutes, but the party atmosphere was somewhat spoiled late in the period when Vukona went down. He struggled to put any weight on the foot and it was no surprise to see him with his feet up in the second half.

With Vukona on the sidelines and playing numbers reduced, the minor premiers went about exhibiting their depth. The bench brigade saw significant minutes but the Breakers didn't miss a beat, starting the period with a 10-0 run to courtesy of eight points from Corey Webster.

"One of the real strengths of our group is that we don't get fazed by things,'' Lemanis said. "You're down in numbers, you've got foul trouble, you've got people playing in different positions. It's good to have to go through those challenges and see how you respond.''

The response would have pleased Lemanis, who even gave some rare first-half court time to development player Reuben Te Rangi. And the junior Tall Black, who finished with nine points, immediately hit a confidence-boosting corner three to help the Breakers to a 10-point lead at halftime.

That lead was soon doubled thanks to another fast start but, having allowed the Tigers to claw back a 21-point deficit in the Breakers' win on Sunday, the home side weren't about to get too comfortable.

The Breakers' lead stood at 16 heading into the final quarter and the NSEC was firmly in celebration mode. That feeling was only enhanced as the quarter wore on, with the points flowing and the playoff-hunting Tigers turning their attentions to more important matters.

All that was left was for Dillon Boucher, retiring at season's end, to get the send-off he deserved and his late substitution was greeted by a standing ovation from his home crowd.

Breakers 114 (Abercrombie 24, Webster 23, Pledger 22)
Melbourne 84 (Goulding 22, Walker 14, Scott 12)
HT: 60-50

- APNZ

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