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Undermanned NZ Breakers stun SEM Phoenix to notch first NBL road victory

Undermanned NZ Breakers stun SEM Phoenix to notch first NBL road victory thumbnail

Breakers Next Star Rayan Rupert attacks off the dribble against the SEM Phoenix in Melbourne.

Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Breakers Next Star Rayan Rupert attacks off the dribble against the SEM Phoenix in Melbourne.

At John Cain Arena, Melbourne: NZ Breakers 85 (Rob Loe 18, Izayah Le’afa 14, Jarrell Brantley 13, Will McDopwell-White 12, Rayan Rupert 10), SEM Phoenix 77 (Mitch Creeek 20, Kyle Adnam 17, Ryan Broekhoff 11). 1Q: 19-17; HT: 45-38; 3Q: 63-56.

Down on personnel, but not spirit, Mody Maor’s New Zealand Breakers produced their most notable performance of the young Australian NBL season with a Saturday night victory at South East Melbourne Phoenix.

Behind standout performances from Kiwis Izayah Le’afa and Rob Loe, and excellent support roles from Aussie point guard Will McDowell-White, French teen Rayan Rupert and import Jarrell Brantley, the Breakers stunned the Phoenix with a heady performance at both ends of the floor to secure their first road victory of the season and improve to 2-1.

For the Phoenix, who welcomed back three key players in Ryan Broekhoff, Trey Kell and Zhou Qi, it was a third consecutive defeat as they drop to 1-3 for the campaign.

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The Breakers, already down skipper Tom Abercrombie while he recovers from eye surgery, had to go without two main rotation pieces as import Barry Brown Jr (hamstring) and Cam Gliddon (illness) sat this one out at late notice.

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It mattered not as they snapped an 11-game losing streak against Melbourne teams at John Cain Arena and a 7-game skid against the Phoenix. Loe, playing his best NBL hoops in three-plus years, stepped up with a massive performance off the bench to lead the Breakers with 18 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes, going 7 of 11 from the floor and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Le’afa, a growing force in this league, added a heady double-double of 14 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals and excelled in the role as chief playmaker, despite a 3-of-16 shooting night.

Jarrell Brantley and the Breakers secured their first road win of the season in Melbourne.

Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Jarrell Brantley and the Breakers secured their first road win of the season in Melbourne.

But the support was notable. Power forward Brantley added 13 points and 5 boards, McDowell-White 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists and Rupert chipped in with 10 points, 6 boards and 3 dimes. Development player Alex McNaught also put in a strong defensive shift in his first NBL minutes.

The Breakers’ shooting cooled somewhat in the second half, but they still shot 42% from the floor and restricted the Melbourne club to a 36% clip. They also bounced back well on the boards, nudging the ebound battle 46-39.

Mitch Creek led the Phoenix with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, while the elusive Kyle Adnam added 17 and 7 assists for the home side

The Breakers shrugged off the absence of their two key rotation men to lead by two (19-17) after the first quarter and by seven (45-38) at the major break as the next-man-up mentality permeated through the lineup.

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Le’afa (9 points), Loe (8), Rupert (8), Brantley (7) and McDowell-White (6) kept things ticking over at the offensive end for the Kiwis through the first two periods, and their defence continued to make an impact with the Phoenix restricted to 14-of-35 shooting and just one of nine from deep.

The Breakers shot a solid 43% from the floor and an impressive 45 (5 of 11) from beyond the arc and also introduced McNaught and Dan Fotu for their first NBL minutes, with the former particulary impressive with his feisty defensive work.

The third quarter proved a topsy-turvy affair, with the Kiwi club easing out by 15 early, but the Phoenix, behind an 8-point spell from Adnam, closed it back to seven (63-56) by the end.

The Breakers extended back out by as many as 16 in the final term, before a late scoring burst made things more respectable for the Phoenix. The Breakers next take on the Illawarra Hawks in Wollongong on Monday to complete a round 3 road double.

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