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Hawks fly into four, plucky Phoenix fleeced: NBL

ILLAWARRA levelled its record at 12-12 and threw Brisbane (now 12-14) under the bus when Gary Clark shone and the Hawks shut down Nathan Sobey, ahead of South East Melbourne again showing great pluck, only losing to NBL leader Melbourne by 16 in a Throwdown which had great potential for a blow-out. 

With another fine crowd rallying behind the Hawks in Wollongong, they had an edge over Brisbane throughout the first half, despite under par games from stalwarts Tyler Harvey and Sam Froling.

Rightly maligned import Justin Robinson stepped up again off the bench for 16 points at 54 per cent and five assists as Illawarra coach Justin Tatum found his rotation players more than ready to step into the breach.

Todd Blanchfield continued to show value and Mason Peatling, AJ Johnson and Lachlan Olbrich all provided valuable relief minutes.

But it was Will "Davo" Hickey who stepped up to chase Sobey around when it mattered, the Bullets' leading scorer restricted to 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting, plus four turnovers.

Trailing 44-50 at halftime, the Bullets produced their best quarter of the afternoon, going 22-12 to secure a 66-62 buffer going into the final quarter.

Sobey had seven of his 11 points in the breakout period and Josh Bannan five of his 11, Casey Prather (9 points in 15 minutes) starting to look frustrated with Justin Schueller's far-too-regular rotations.

Illawarra hit back hard in the last quarter, Clark en route to a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double, his top-of-the-key 3-pointer to break the Hawks from 78-76 to 81-76 inside the final minute a death blow.

It ignited an 11-0 run to the siren, capped by a Hickey slam dunk and which left the margin looking considerably less reflective of the contest than its preceding 39 minutes.  

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 89 (Clark 19, Robinson 16, Froling 12, Harvey 10; Clark 10 rebs; Robinson 5 assts) d BRISBANE BULLETS 76 (McDaniel, Bannan, Sobey 11, Harrison 10; Harrison, Bannan 8 rebs; 6 with 2 assts) at WIN Entertainment Centre. Crowd: 4,991

FROM the moment South East Melbourne announced Mitch Creek was joining its laundry list of injured and sidelined players, any Phoenix chance of a Throwdown boilover against league-leading Melbourne evaporated.

Abdel Nader had the all-clear to return but Creek sidelined alongside Alan Williams, Gary Browne, Craig Moller and Matt Kenyon meant only the margin of United's victory was up for discussion.

Melbourne pulled away steadily rather than dramatically, ahead 26-17 after one and 57-44 at halftime, SEM coach Mike Kelly judiculously using his timeouts to stall those occasions when United appeared likely to bolt away.

And every time his team responded by dragging deficits back into the "manageable" range, Nader in particular growing his game in the second quarter, attacking the hoop and heading into the main interval with 14 points.

Melbourne had Tanner Krebs stepping up in the second period and the Phoenix had to scramble defensively to keep this from getting out of hand.

But giving up 57 first-half points suggested a blow-out was imminent and when Nader picked up his fourth foul within about 90 seconds of the third quarter, and Ben Ayre his third on the next play, the die was cast.

Matthew Dellavedova and an active Jo Lual-Acuil with a pair of dunks led to Shea Ili's 3-pointer which closed an 11-0 third quarter United start, bulging the margin out to 68-44 before Gorjok Gak responded.

Dellavedova's 3-pointer and Luke Travers' dunk forced Kelly to call time, Nader scoring consecutive baskets ahead of more Melbourne misery as Flynn Cameron and Ian Clark pumped the lead to 77-50.

Luke Rosendale, who scored a wicked inside basket off an Ayre feed in the second quarter, converting it into a three-point play, swished a 3-pointer but this was United's quarter, going 31-15.

Ariel Hukporti bumped the lead out to a game-high 31 at 88-57 before Kody Stattmann pulled a bucket back ahead of the last break.

Owen Foxwell, Stattmann, Rosendale and Ayre all continued to hustle in the final period which South East won 24-11, leaving many wondering where had this sort of heart and fight been when they were losing at home by 25 to Adelaide or 30-plus away in New Zealand.

MELBOURNE UNITED 99 (Lual-Acuil 16, Cameron 15, Clark 14, Krebs, Travers 12; Hukporti 10 rebs; Dellavedova 8 assts) d SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 83 (Nader 18, Foxwell 14, Ayre 13, Gak 10; Gak 11 rebs; Ayre 9 assts) at John Cain Arena. Crowd: 10,175

Feb 4

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.