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Hawks advance in Play-In thriller

05 Mar
3 mins read
Justin Robinson starred in Illawarra Hawks' dramatic Play-In win against the New Zealand Breakers.

The Illawarra Hawks' rags-to-riches campaign will stretch into the Playoffs after a dramatic 88-85 Play-In defeat of the New Zealand Breakers that ends the Kiwi side's season.

Hawks guard Justin Robinson starred, with 24 of his 26 points coming in the second half on Monday, when the game turned into an arm-wrestle after early Illawarra dominance.

Robinson hit three pairs of free throws in the final 30 seconds to restore a three-point lead before a rocking Wollongong crowd.

Breakers superstar Parker Jackson-Cartwright had the chance to send the game to overtime with a three-point attempt at the buzzer, but the ball bounced out of the hoop and Illawarra rejoiced.

The Hawks, who began the season with a 2-7 record, now have the chance to book a Championship Series berth when they face Melbourne United in a three-match Playoff series that begins on Thursday.

After a season spent defying the odds in the face of injuries, the Breakers came within an inch of causing their second upset this Play-In series.

But in the end Illawarra were rewarded for starting with a 31-17 first quarter, and for their ability to minimise the impact of Jackson-Cartwright, quiet by his standards with 19 points from 29 per cent field-goal shooting.

The Hawks employed a tight man-to-man defence on Jackson-Cartwright all night, with Wani Swaka Lo Buluk particularly effective in stifling him before the main change.

In a barnstorming opening quarter, the Hawks tore the Breakers apart and scored 26 points in the paint, taking full advantage as Breakers centre Mangok Mathiang found himself in foul trouble.

Sam Froling (21 points, nine rebounds) led the way early for the Hawks.

The Breakers pulled down only three rebounds in the entire first quarter, but Izayah Le'afa (11 points, three steals) starred on an 11-0 run that put them back in the game after quarter-time.

Jackson-Cartwright slipped in a lay-up to level the scores at the main change.

Illawarra rediscovered their transition offence in the third quarter as Robinson began to make his presence felt with 10 points for the period.

The lead changed 10 times in the final quarter as the Breakers threatened to do what they've done all season and somehow find a way.

But Robinson, who hit two three-pointers in the final quarter, had his eye in late to seal the win.

The result ends Tom Abercrombie's NBL career after 429 games, with the Breakers' most-capped player announcing his intention to retire just before the end of the regular season.

The Hawks will head to Melbourne for Game One against United on Thursday before returning to protect their home court with Game Two at WIN Entertainment Centre On Sunday, March 10, at 3 pm.

HUNGRY JACKS NBL PLAY-IN GAME

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 88 (Robinson 26, Froling 21, Hickey 9)

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 85 (Jackson-Cartwright 19, Cheatham 14, Le'afa 11, Mathiang 11, Rubstavicius 11)

BOX SCORE

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