Bryce Cotton produced a second-half masterclass, ending with a superb three-pointer at the full-time buzzer, to guide the Perth Wildcats to a gripping 85-79 win over the New Zealand Breakers at the Silverdome.
Cotton, the NBL MVP favorite, overcame a goalless opening season on Tuesday – on the back of a poor match against Adelaide last Saturday – to finish off 26 of his game’s highest 31 points after halftime.
His brilliant display featured an unbalanced three-pointer, double pump to force extra time, which he dominated.
“We had rest time left and the other people knew the game and executed it well (1.7 seconds left in the final quarter),” said Perth coach Trevor Gleeson. “The BC with dual pumps looks like it’s going to run a little short, but we’ll take it.”
The Wildcats looked a long way from starting pace, missing 20 of their first 23 shots, Cotton was goalless until midway through the second half and fellow importer John Mooney (three points with eight per cent) had a rare stinker.
The Breakers, matched by top-notch attacker Finn Delany (25 points, nine rebounds), had their first shot and were leading 23-9 in quarter time.
Then Perth flipped the script in the second set, beating NZ 23-10 to reduce the deficit to a point in the first half before taking the lead early in the third with a third corner from Mitch Norton.
In NBL’s first game in Tasmania since 2005 and first at Launceston since 1982, the Wildcats led 69-63 with one minute remaining in regulation on Todd Blanchfield’s steal and lay-up of third-man Will McDowell-White’s turnover.
But just as the game seemed to be over, McDowell-White made amends with a strong drive and a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining.
He deliberately tried to miss the second but it veered off, which gave Perth time to set up and erase NZ’s three-point lead.
Cotton did it in spectacular fashion at the full-time bell – after he had unusually missed the previous 17 three-pointers.
Cotton, who scored 20 of Perth’s last 26 points, alone outperformed NZ 9-7 in overtime, further establishing himself as one of the greatest NBL players of all time.
“It is a reminder that matches can be decided by very small things,” said Breakers coach Dan Shamir. “We wanted to miss the last free throw, which is not always easy.
“Cotton then drives the three crazy and here we are at a loss.”