Wollongong guard Rhys Martin played the game of his life to lead the Hawks to a spine-tingling 91-89 victory over the Adelaide 36ers tonight at WIN Entertainment Centre.
The win was Wollongong’s fifth straight, keeping them firmly in the hunt for a top four finish.
Martin was the star, tallying a career-high 32 points along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Hawks led by 15 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter and actually fell behind by two with two minutes to play.
But Martin handed the baton to teammate Rotnei Clarke and the American stood tall in crunch time, connecting on some big shots to secure the win.
Clarke finished with 21 points, while Tim Coenraad and Larry Davidson combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds.
Former Hawks import Gary Ervin scored 14 points in the final period to finish with 21, while Sixers centre Daniel Johnson notched 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Wollongong are fifth with four games remaining. They host Cairns next Saturday.
Tonight’s clash drew the hawks’ best crowd of the season (3123) and the fans were treated to an absorbing contest.
The Hawks were in trouble early as the visitors helped themselves to six offensive rebounds in the opening five minutes.
Unlike the previous meeting three weeks ago, the Sixers were clearly determined to make an early statement, pushing the ball on every possession and taking a 19-14 lead.
Hawks coach Gordie McLeod let his team know about their soft effort under the glass during a time-out and the response was swift.
Clarke hit his first three, sparking a 10-0 run for a 24-19 quarter-time lead.Martin led his side with eight points, while Coenraad and Clarke had six apiece.
Johnson had seven for Adelaide and Anthony Petrie racked up six points and six rebounds.
Energised by a few pointed words from coach Joey Wright, the 36ers got their running game going again, forging ahead 38-36 with four minutes left in the half.
The Hawks punched back with Martin’s twisting lay-up and Coenraad’s three before Ervin’s free throws brought Adelaide level at 41-all with just under two minutes remaining.
Martin scored on a lay-up and free throw before cleverly dishing off to a trailing Oscar Forman for a basket, as Wollongong took a 46-41 lead into half-time.
The Hawks were pounded under the boards (26-16), though they hit 50 per cent of their shots compared to Adelaide’s 39 per cent.
Martin was the standout with 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Coenraad and Clarke each had nine points, while Gruber added six.
Johnson was the Sixers’ best with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Martin splashed a long three on the shot-clock buzzer to start the second half and the margin swelled to 10 after two minutes.
The Sixers trimmed the deficit to six midway through the third period, but the Hawks held their nerve.
It was that man Martin again in the final seconds of the third quarter, rebounding his own shot and flipping in a shot for a 71-59 lead.
He knocked down his third three to start the fourth quarter and the margin was 15.
But the 36ers showed no signs of quitting, scoring 15 unanswered points to tie the game, mostly from the three-point line.
Ervin was particularly prominent in Adelaide’s surge, as was his backcourt partner Adam Gibson.
The Hawks moved ahead by four but Ervin swished a three and Johnson scored inside to give the Sixers their first lead since the second period.
The final two minutes had everything, as Ervin and Clarke engaged in an enthralling shoot-out, but the Hawks held on to keep their season alive.