One down, seven to go for the Wollongonhg Hawks.
The Hawks stayed in finals contention in no uncertain terms tonight at WIN Entertainment Centre, overpowering the Townsville Crocodiles 90-75.
Wollongong’s record stands at 8-13 with seven games remaining, two wins behind fourth-placed Sydney.
They can move a step closer by knocking over the Kings (10-9) on Saturday night at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.
The Hawks were in control from start to finish, leading at every change and by as many as 26 in the third quarter.
American guard Rotnei Clarke was on target with 26 points and five assists, while his backcourt partner Rhys Martin also shone with 16 points.
Dave Gruber was a force inside all night with 10 ponts anhd 11 rebounds, Kevin Tiggs worked hard for his 15 points and seven rebounds, while Tim Coenraad and Oscar Forman combined for 19 points.
Townsville were led by Josh Pace’s 19 points.
The Hawks dstroyed the Crocs under the boards (43-27) and made 51 per cent of their shots for the game.
Coach Gordie McLeod cleared his bench in the final minute, giving development squad players Jordan Barry and Luke Jamieson a chance to hit the court.
Gruber was the story early for the Hawks.
Playing with his usual bull-at-a-gate energy, the veteran enforcer quickly racked up six points and four rebounds.
Wollongong were looking to run and moved the ball confidently, bolting to a 10-4 lead.
The Crocs hit back to trim the margin to one before Wollongong forged ahead by five with three minutes remaining in the quarter.
Tiggs grabbed the baton, scoring on free throws and a coast-to-coast drive, while Martin’s lay-up in the closing seconds pushed the lead out to 28-16 at quarter-time.
Wollongong connected on a blistering 61 per cent of their field goals and out-rebounded their opponents 11-6.
Martin led his side with eight points, while Tiggs and Gruber each had six.
Martin continued to dissect the defence and the margin swelled to 21 with five minutes left in the half.
The Hawks maintained the upper hand, but the Crocs had the last say with old stager Russell Hinder’s buzzer-beating three cutting the lead to 54-39 at half-time.
Martin was up to 12 points, Clarke had 11, while Coenraad’s 10 all came in the second period. Gruber and Tiggs added eight apiece.
Wollongong were having their way under the boards, grabbing 21 rebounds to Townsville’s nine.
Their 54 points came on 69 per cent shooting, compared to 45 per cent for the visitors.
Pace was the standout with 13 points, Mitch Norton had eight, while Markovic was effective with five points and five assists.
Sparked by a three-pointer and three free throws by Clarke, the Hawks re-asserted themselves with a 9-2 run to start the third quarter.
The margin swelled to 26 at one stage and was 80-56 when the period ended.
Despite a worrying dry spell to start the fourth quarter, the home side were too far in front to be seriously threatened.