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WW - 36ers V Hawks, April 16, 2001

WAYBACK Wednesday was a weekly feature I wrote last season for Adelaide 36ers website, which now you can revisit, see for the first time or completely ignore!



THE tragedy about the now legendary Game 3 of the 2001 Semi Final series is that what has become lost in the controversy of its finish is the fact it may well have been one of the greatest games of NBL ever played.

Well before naturalised guard Damon Lowery went to the free throw line for three of the most devastating shots in 36er history and three of the most memorable makes in Wollongong's, the game itself had been a classic, with massive shot after huge shot after big shot.

But the highly contentious foul call and three free throws after the siren by Lowery sent Adelaide crashing from the NBL play-offs in the cruellest possible manner, beaten 109-108.

It also meant this match could never just be enjoyed on its merits as an NBL classic. Except, of course, by Hawks’ fans.

Referee Eddie Crouch found a foul against 36ers playmaker Darnell Mee as he swatted away Lowery's desperate 3-point prayer to win the Semi Final series.

The prayer was answered with Crouch’s shrill whistle.

It was deafening pandemonium at The Sandpit, drowning out the buzzer to start a debate whether Lowery's shot attempt was late.

Video replays showed he got it off before time expired.

They also showed it was cleanly whacked away by Mee.

Lowery's first of three free throws hit the front of the rim, bounced around and fell in for 107-108.

His second was less convincing, bobbing around the ring before falling for 108-108.

His third also bobbled up and around before finally ending Adelaide's season and making Wollongong the first New South Wales team to reach a Mitsubishi Challenge grand final in the NBL's 23-year history.

“I thought three for a dollar - make these three and we're in the grand final,” Lowery said.

“I don't feel pressure - up until today. I was scared as hell today.

“Once I went to the line, I thought these are situations everybody wants to be in.”

Missed free throws in the last 82 seconds cost the 36ers a chance to put the game just outside the Hawks' grasp, Mee missing one which would have made it 108-104 instead of 107, Kevin Brooks also splitting a pair which would have made it 109 instead of 108-106.

They were small blemishes in an otherwise enthralling contest that showcased all the best aspects basketball has to offer.

Melvin Thomas, with 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting and 11 rebounds, was the rock on which Wollongong built its Grand Final drive and Mat Campbell had an excellent shooting game, his 19 points including 5-of-6 threes.

Brooks again had a huge final, leading the 36ers with 26 points at 63 per cent and nailing two huge 3-pointers in the final quarter when the Wollongong faithful were bringing their team home.

Mee, Brett Maher and Paul Maley - in what turned out to be his last NBL game - all went down fighting and Mark Nash had a sparkling match, throwing down a driving dunk through traffic that was breath-taking.

“We're disappointed and possibly we shouldn't be,” Sixers coach Phil Smyth said.

“We were supposed to be out a week-and-a-half ago and we've managed to get this far.

“But once you get this far you feel like you're in there with a good chance.

“Right now, we're trying to deal with that.”

Smyth predicted Adelaide would lodge a formal protest with the NBL over the call and also the non-call in Game 1 that was equally devastating.

Wollongong took a 1-0 series lead in Adelaide with an 84-83 win after a foul by Charles Thomas against Mee on the last attack was waved away and a clear foul by Melvin Thomas on David Stiff as he grabbed the rebound was ignored.

Adelaide won Game 2 of its semi-final 111-100 at The Sandpit to force the Game 3 decider.

But it ultimately was decided by Lowery's free throws after Crouch's foul call against Mee.

“The club will pursue two incidents now that have happened in the play-offs, through the proper channels, and we would expect that we would get an interesting answer from that,” a clearly disconsolate Smyth said.

“Twice in a three-game series is just a little bit hard to deal with so we'll just see what the response is.”

In the end though and after the bitterness of the loss had subsided, Smyth and the 36ers just took it on the chin and used it as motivation for a successful run at the 2002 Championship.

Slow motion replays though suggested Crouch should never have made the call.

If Lowery got the shot off before the bell, there should have been time on the clock to play when the Wollongong guard took his three free throws.

In that instance, the 36ers could have lined up around the keyway and someone such as Stiff could have swatted Lowery's bouncy, bobbling third free throw off the rim, as Melvin Thomas had done to a Rupert Sapwell free throw earlier.

That would have meant a 108-108 tie, and overtime.

Buoyed, Wollongong went on to win the Championship while Adelaide was left to lament what might have been ... though only for one year.


LIKE more on how this memorable epic unfolded? Got a spare hour? Then settle back and you might enjoy this chapter from BASKET CASES at but (spoiler alert for 36ers fans), it doesn't end any differently.

Aug 20

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