Breakers 73 Townsville 71
It may have been a lot more difficult than they would have liked, but the patchy Breakers eventually edged Townsville 73-71 at the NSEC tonight.
Some Cedric Jackson hustle earned the Breakers possession with time nearly expiring, and the American showed his class by driving to the hoop and laying in the winning basket.
The Breakers bossed Townsville at both ends for large stretches, before a fourth-quarter collapse threatened to undo all the good work.
The victory followed a shocking first-up loss to Perth and a rusty effort in last week's win over Adelaide and, after tonight's performance, the rest of the Australian NBL will still be waiting for the two-time defending champions to lay down a marker of their title credentials.
Regardless, the win ran their record to 2-1 and ensured the Breakers closed their first homestand on a high, giving them much-needed momentum to take to Melbourne next weekend.
The opposition may have come into tonight with two losses to start their campaign, but these Crocs showed far more bite than they had previously.
Townsville took a lead into halftime but that advantage was deceptive. The Breakers were in the middle of a 16-0 run that turned the game and gave the Breakers the breathing room they ended up needing.
The north-Queenslanders started with a hiss and a roar, though that seemed to merely disturb the beast that is Mika Vukona. His inspirational defence kept the Breakers within touch in the first half, and Vukona had already accumulated a double-double early in the second spell.
With his example eventually followed, the tight victory enabled Tom Abercrombie to exact some revenge over Peter Crawford after the Australian's damaging foul in last season's semifinals.
Abercrombie seemed to rise in the face of his adversary and, with six early points, was showing more explosiveness to the hoop than he had since before he was hobbled by the Croc.
That was part of an impressive opening salvo from the Breakers but they soon began to cool and Vukona, clearly unimpressed with some of his teammates' efforts, was seen imploring them to give Townsville fewer open looks.
To exacerbate matters, the offensive struggles of previous weeks returned and the visitors took a 26-18 lead into the opening break.
Some animoisty crept into the game in the second quarter and Crocs point guard Gary Ervin soon lost his cool, whistled for a technical foul after appearing to make contact with an official.
His persistent protestations, combined with a Jackson lob pass to Abercrombie, had the crowd firing up but the Crocs refused to be rattled.
They stretched their advantage to double digits before the Breakers embarked on a 10-0 run to close the second quarter and reduce the deficit to just two points.
The Breakers continued that momentum through to the third quarter and built their largest lead of the game. With their defence keeping the Crocs to nine points in the period, the defending champs started looking like a side that would soon streak away.
But the Crocs wouldn't wilt and, aided by Jackson appearing out of sorts in his personal match-up against Ervin, they managed to stay within reach.
The Breakers held a tenuous 60-56 lead at the final break and, with Townsville taking two minutes to trouble the scorers in the fourth quarter, the Breakers' advantage soon stretched to 11 points.
But Townsville again held tough and eight straight points from Ervin tied the score with 34 seconds on the clock. Jackson then came through in the clutch before Vukona (15 points and 15 boards) stole the ball to seal it.
Breakers 73 (Vukona 15, Abercrombie 15, Corletto 15)
Townsville 71 (Ervin 21, Blanchfield 16, Holmes 11)
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris