Hawks coach defiant despite gut-wrenching loss

BASKETBALL

Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod defiantly went into bat for his crestfallen players after the Hawks' gut-wrenching double overtime loss to Melbourne.

Despite leading by eight with less than five minutes remaining of their New Year's Eve home clash with the Tigers, Wollongong failed to deliver the knockout blow in regulation.

The Hawks did well to erase a six-point deficit in the first extra period, due largely to Rotnei Clarke's breathtaking shooting display (37 points, 9/10 threes).

But they veered completely off course in the second extra period, committing several turnovers and went down 91-81.

The defeat left Wollongong alone at the bottom of the ladder with a 4-9 record after Cairns upset league leaders Perth 99-90.

If that isn't bad enough, the Hawks host Perth on Saturday, and the Wildcats will be hellbent on redemption after losing for only the second time this season.

Some less forgiving Hawks fans used the word "choke" to describe Tuesday's loss.

McLeod didn't echo those sentiments.

"The one thing I am is proud," he said. "[The Tigers are] sitting pretty clear in third position and we've played them in three games and it's been down to the wire in all three games.

"The point is we're playing teams tough, and that's the thing we're really pleased about with our group and where we're going.

"Obviously we're bitterly disappointed, but we had a good, hard crack at it and the reality is we just were not good enough. Overall we're extremely proud of the boys and their efforts."

The Hawks fell behind 30-17 midway through the second quarter before finishing the first half with a stunning 18-0 run.

The second half was like a heavyweight boxing fight, as both teams stood toe to toe trading blows.

Perhaps the defining moment for Wollongong was their failure to inbound the ball when they held a one-point lead with 20 seconds to play in regulation.

Clarke's heroic shooting in the first overtime thrilled the crowd and his points total was up to 37.

But he didn't score in the second overtime and no-one stepped up.

"That game was played with play-off intensity. That's what it was for us," McLeod said.

"We just didn't have enough guys playing at the level we need them to play at. Rottty has an outstanding game, but it's all for nothing if we don't have all those other guys up playing where we need them, and that was the difference in the game.

"You can give the Tigers credit for some of that stuff, and some of that is we have to be better at making adjustments on the run.

"You can always look at some of those turnovers down the stretch and some of things that happened, but that's being a bit cruel and a bit critical.

"We need some work on that area, but overall I think we did enough to come away with a win. We left everything out there on the floor. There wasn't anything in the tank. That's what's cruel about the game sometimes and you just have to live with that."

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