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Australian NBL: NZ Breakers pipped as Bryce Cotton nails it late for Perth Wildcats

Finn Delany led the Breakers with 25 points against the Perth Wildcats in Launceston, Tasmania.

Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Finn Delany led the Breakers with 25 points against the Perth Wildcats in Launceston, Tasmania.

Perth Wildcats star Bryce Cotton broke the Breakers’ hearts, and maybe their Australian NBL season with it in Launceston on Tuesday night.

Cotton came up huge after a sub-par first half to lead the Wildcats to a thrilling 85-79 overtime victory in the Breakers’ “home” debut at the Silverdome in Tasmania. The import point guard, in the process of nailing down his Australian citizenship, poured in 26 second-half and extra-period points to finish with 31 for the game as the Wildcats improved to 16-5 for the season.

And none of his nine successful shots for the night were bigger than the off-balance 3-pointer he hit with time up to force overtime after the Breakers had taken an unlikely 72-69 lead in the final seconds of regulation. Victory had been theirs for the taking with just 1.7 seconds left on the clock; only for Cotton to snatch it from their grasp.

The Breakers, in contrast, drop to 5-14 for the season, with their playoff hopes all but extinguished as they continue to find ways to lose close games. It is the Kiwi club’s third defeat on the bounce and their seventh in the last eight outings.

* Breakers bounced: Australian NBL delays New Zealand homecoming until late-May
* Finn Delany’s big night not enough for Breakers as Melbourne United reclaim top spot
* Rob Loe rejoins NZ Breakers for remainder of NBL season, Tai Webster out injured

It was not the way the Breakers wanted to mark skipper Tom Abercombie’s 350th NBL game either, as they let slip a royal chance to scramble a victory that might just have breathed some life into their ailing season.

The Kiwi club had roared back from seven points down (67-60) with 2:16 remaining and then six down (69-63) inside the last 1:21 to take an improbable 72-69 lead with a 9-0 burst.

It had been Aussie point guard William McDowell-White who was the unlikely hero as he shook off a poor shooting night to make the go-ahead driving layup with 8 seconds left in regulation, and then grabbed an important rebound off Cotton’s attempted game-winner with 4 seconds left. He was immediately fouled.

Wildcats star Bryce Cotton picked up his game after halftime to roll past the Breakers in overtime.

Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Wildcats star Bryce Cotton picked up his game after halftime to roll past the Breakers in overtime.

The plan had been for McDowell-White to make the first free-throw and miss the second, forcing the Wildcats to go the length of the floor for the final shot. Instead he made both, allowing Perth to advance the ball off a timeout, and Cotton to have the time he needed to make the high-degree-of-difficulty shot to force overtime.

From there it was a bridge too far for the Breakers who made a positive start to lead 77-72 early in the extra period on a McDowell-White dunk and Abercrombie triple, but pretty much hit the wall thereafter. They sorely missed Corey Webster who had fouled out late in regulation.

Cotton mixed the sublime with the ridiculous to finish with that game-high 31 points on 9-of-22 shooting (1 of 7 from deep). After having zero points in the first quarter and just 5 at the main break (on 1-of-6 shooting) the league MVP bounced back beautifully over the run home, beating the Breakers’ defence repeatedly off the dribble and earning 17 trips to the foul-line (making 15).

Todd Blanchfield was the best of the rest for the Cats with 16 points and 6 boards, while normally productive import centre John Mooney was held to just 3 points on 1-of-12 shooting.

Finn Delany was the only Breaker to find any rhythm on offence as he continued his hot form with 25 points (on 6-of-11 shooting) and 9 rebounds. Corey Webster took 15 shots to post his 11 points (though he did add 8 dimes), Abercrombie chipped in with a couple of 3-pointers to pass Kirk Penney’s career mark for the club en route to 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, while Rob Loe added a nice cameo of 10 points and 5 rebounds in just 9 minutes off the bench.

McDowell-White had a mixed night with 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting (0 of 6 from deep), 3 turnovers and 7 boards, though made a couple of big plays down the stretch. Big Colton Iverson shut down Mooney well, but managed just 8 points, 9 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 35 minutes.

Both teams struggled offensively, shooting just 37 per cent from the floor overall, and it was the Breakers’ 15 turnovers that arguably hurt them most. They also gave up 14 offensive boards and were minus-14 in free-throw attempts.

The Kiwi club had looked to be cruising early as they led 23-9 at the end of one, only for Perth to dominate the second stanza 23-10 to set up a contest that would stay close thereafter.

The Breakers will host the Brisbane Bullets next up on Friday at the same venue.

Perth Wildcats 85 (Bryce Cotton 29, Todd Blanchfield 19, Mitch Norton 11, Jesse Wagstaff 10), NZ Breakers 79 (Finn Delany 25, Corey Webster 11, Rob Loe 10, Tom Abercrombie 10) in overtime. 1Q: 9-23; HT: 32-33; 3Q: 52-49; FT: 72-72.

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