HAWKS FLY TO THEIR FIRST VICTORY

Returning NBL MVP Kirk Penney exploded with a game-high 36 points to lead the Illawarra Hawks to a resounding 96-75 defeat of reigning NBL Champions, the New Zealand Breakers on Wednesday night at WIN Entertainment Centre.

Making a huge statement for his team in their first home game of the season, the experienced 34-year old was outstanding against his former side, sinking 7-of-12 three-point shots and hitting all nine of his free throws.

‘’I was going to be aggressive tonight,’’ Penney said.

‘’I really wanted to get after it.’’

Hawks centre AJ Ogilvy was also superb with 23 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocks, while Charles Jackson finished with a team-high 19 points for the Breakers.

Illawarra led at every change to claim their maiden win of the season.

The Hawks were without guards Rhys Martin and Kevin Lisch, while Mika Vukona and Corey Webster were absent for New Zealand.

‘’We’ve said since the start of the season that it’s about us trying to find our identity and how we’re going to play, and when you have a performance like that, playing 10-deep and guys chomping at the bit, it reinforces the style of game we want to play,’’ Illawarra head coach Rob Beveridge said.

‘’That was a special game and it was so good that our home crowd got to see the style we’re playing and how much fun it’s going to be.’’

The Breakers came out firing, racing to a 7-0 lead before Penney stopped the rot with a pair of free throws.

New Zealand maintained the upper hand and built a 14-11 lead, but Penney was running hot, sparking a 15-2 run which effectively changed the game.

He finished the first quarter with 14 points, as Illawarra surged to a 32-19 lead.

The Hawks were getting contributions all over the court and the margin swelled to 20 midway through the second period.

When the half-time siren sounded, Illawarra were up 59-40 and Penney had 22 points.

Ogilvy was dominant at both ends, racking up 14 points, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks, while Jarrad Weeks had eight points off the bench.

The Hawks had just five turnovers at compared to 16 for the visitors.

‘’Illawarra’s intensity and pressure disrupted us,’’ Breakers head coach Dean Vickerman said.

‘’We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to.’’

Another telling statistic was New Zealand’s making just 6-of-8 free throws – a stark contrast to Illawarra’s 15-of-16.

The Breakers were led by Tom Abercrombie’s nine points.

New Zealand cut the deficit to 15 at one stage in the third quarter but the home side responded again to take a commanding 74-52 lead into the final period.

Penney had 30 to his name and Ogilvy was up to 16.

The final quarter was largely the same as the previous three, as Illawarra registered their first victory of the 2015/16 NBL season.

The Illawarra Hawks next head to Sydney for a date with the Kings on Saturday evening, while the New Zealand Breakers meet the Wildcats in Perth on Friday night.

R2 PREVIEW: SYDNEY V TOWNSVILLE

The Sydney Kings opened their season with showcase game against one of the League’s heavyweights, but they need to back it up tonight at the QANTAS Credit Union Arena against the Townsville Crocodiles.

The key factor for the Kings heading in Round 2 will be their consistency – an ongoing issue for the Sydney side, however their new roster brings hope to the Harbour City.

Last season consisted of a similar scenario – the Kings had won their opening game at home and were hosting a winless Townsville in Round 2. There is every chance history could repeat itself today, as last time the Crocodiles pinched the victory and went home happy that night.

The Kings have not won their opening two games of a season since they re-joined the League in October 2010.

It was little surprise that Townsville won at Sydney twice last season. In fact, they are the team that currently has the best winning streak of any club at the Kingdome, even better than the home side, and have won five of their past six games against Sydney.

This year might be different. Sydney showed star qualities last week by thumping Championship contender Cairns by 24 points – their biggest win at the Kingdome in five years, with the biggest swipe at the critics that assumed they couldn’t win without Josh Childress.

While Childress may still not suit up tonight, Julian Khazzouh showed his class with a dominant man of the match performance against the experienced Cairns front line that proved he will be a game changer for Sydney this season.

Jason Cadee also showed his pre-season shooting form was no fluke with a strong 19-points as a starter, but it was a true team effort with all nine contracted players scoring at least two field baskets each.

Townsville are in the second game of a lengthy road schedule that began on Sunday in Auckland. Their next stops are Cairns, Melbourne and Perth with no home game till Round 4, making it a challenge for the League’s youngest and least experienced squad.

Jordair Jett is the big addition to the Townsville guard rotation this year and he will get better as the season unfolds after recovering from long-term injuries, while Sydney native Mirko Djeric has had a great start to the year as the Crocs’ third leading scorer and leading three-point shooter.

To seal the win tonight, the Crocodiles will be looking to their leading man, reigning MVP Brian Conklin who led the scoring in all four games against the Kings last year.

“King Conk” has started the season well with 20 points per game and he will again be the main man for the visitors. Don’t miss tonight’s game LIVE on FOX SPORTS from 7:30pm AEDT or via the NBL LIVE app.