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NBL 2014/15 Round 10: Breakers squeeze out tight win in Melbourne
The New Zealand Breakers have survived a close encounter with Melbourne United, escaping with a hard fought 92-87 victory. The win cements the Breakers at the top of the NBL ladder, whilst United slips to fourth.
It was a close contest from the outset, with both teams trading the lead at various stages. For United, rebounding continued to be an issue as they were out hustled 35-29 and allowed Ekene Ibekwe to make a crucial tip-in in the final seconds. Import Stephen Dennis had 24 points and 7 rebounds but came up one play short on the night.
New Zealand was led by guards Cedric Jackson and Corey Webster, who combined for 37 points and who continue to lay claim to being the best back-court in the league. The Breakers are proving the team to beat and have survived a tough weeks schedule, beating both Perth and Melbourne.
United jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first quarter, as the visitors shrugged off the usual jet lag. Dennis proved to be a handful for the Breakers, especially when driving. Despite this, United chose to live and die by the long ball again tonight, leading to long rebounds and easy transition buckets for the Breakers.
Tied going into the second stanza, both teams traded big runs with Jackson and Melbourne stalwart Mark Worthington putting their stamp on the game. Wortho finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists - all of which were gained in the first half. Melbourne took a 4 point lead into the break and looked the stronger of the two sides.
With Daniel Kickert relegated to the bench with 4 fouls, the third quarter was an arm-wrestle with United's pressure defense forcing some uncharacteristic Breaker mistakes. With Wortho going AWOL and Kickert riding pine, the momentum shifted and a second Breaker buzzer-beater gave them a slim lead heading into the fourth.
The game was full of questionable foul calls, however United did themselves no favors getting into the penalty early in the fourth. Forced to use their bench, Melbourne were unable to get the scoring they needed (United's bench was outscored 26-9) and found themselves in a 10 point hole. Import Jordan McRae, notched 13 points on a reckless 5/17 shooting as he insisted on isolation plays that murdered their offense.
United fought back with some Dennis magic and a vintage display of Kickert's shooting range, however upon taking the lead 87-86, their rebounding woes returned to haunt them. Ibekwe, who is the one player in the league you most need to box-out, vultured an offensive rebound and gave the Breakers a lead they would not relinquish. Corey Webster put the game beyond doubt from the charity stripe in a scoreline that did not reflect the tough nature of the contest.
Round 11 sees the Breakers play host to Townsville on Friday, before heading to Cairns on Sunday, whilst United gets an improving Wollongong side on Friday and plays a tough Sydney side on Sunday.
New Zealand Breakers 92 (Webster 19, Jackson 18, Vukona 11)
Melbourne United 87 (Dennis 24, Kickert 20, McRae 13)