Hawks surge into top four with comeback win

BASKETBALL

Wollongong jumped into the NBL top four with Friday night’s Herculean comeback victory over the Townsville Crocodiles.

The Hawks were out-played all night before springing to life with a remarkable fourth-quarter effort, outscoring the home team 31-12 to secure a 94-85 win.

Point guard Rhys Martin scored his team’s final eight points, finishing with 15 for the game along with seven assists and five rebounds.

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His backcourt partner Rotnei Clarke had a game-high 23 points and Oscar Forman added 16.

Tim Coenraad was instrumental with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, while Dave Gruber chipped in 10 points.

Wollongong trailed by as many as 14 before finally clicking into gear in the final period.

Defeat would’ve almost certainly buried their chances of claiming a semi-final berth.

But they refused to surrender, notching their sixth win from the past seven games and leapfrogging Sydney into fourth spot.

The Hawks finish the season with next week’s final-round games against Sydney (Friday at home) and Perth (Sunday away).

The Kings (11-14) host Adelaide on Sunday and have season-ending games next week against Wollongong and Townsville.

Melbourne did Wollongong a big favour with Friday night’s 73-66 road victory over Cairns, effectively knocking the Taipans out of the playoffs race.

If Adelaide beat Sydney (11-14) on Sunday, the Hawks only have to account for the Kings next Friday to be assured of fourth spot.

The 36ers will be confident after thrashing Perth 102-79 on Friday night.

Forman scored his team’s first four points against the Crocs and Clarke nailed a couple of early threes.

Coenraad added four quick points and the Hawks were well-positioned at 14-all after five minutes.

Wollongong pushed the lead up to 16-14 after a time-out, but the Crocs replied with a 12-2 spurt, as unsung guard Mitch Norton knocked down a pair of long threes.

Norton was up to eight points at the end of the first quarter, helping the home team to a 31-24 lead.

The Crocs hit 52 per cent of their shots and out-rebounded the Hawks 11-6.

Josh Pace and Jacob Holmes combined for 12 points for Townsville, while Clarke and Forman had seven apiece.

Retiring Crocs centre Russ Hinder could do no wrong, boosting his tally to 11 early in the second period as the margin swelled to 10.

Wollongong cut it to six before Townsville scored seven unanswered points for a 13-point lead.

The Crocs made 50 per cent of their shots in the first half, including 8/17 from the three-point line, taking a well-deserved 54-41 lead into the locker room.

Josh Pace had 12 points, four assists and four rebounds and Hinder was integral with 11 points and four rebounds.

Forman led the Hawks with 13 points, while Clarke had nine.

Wollongong chipped away, pulling to within eight points on Clarke’s deep three with just under five minutes remaining in the quarter.

Another Clarke three made it a five-point deficit, but the Crocodiles steadied with six straight points.

When the third period ended, Townsville held a 73-63 lead.

Just when it seemed that the Hawks were fading, their never-say-die tenacity rose to the surface.

When Coenraad swished a long bomb with just over three minutes to play, the score was locked at 83-all.

The Hawks grabbed their first lead since the first quarter when Forman knocked down a three from the corner, while Martin followed with a lay-up and free throw to put Wollongong up 89-85 with just over a minute remaining.

Martin drilled a clutch three moments later and scored on a lay-up for the game’s final basket.

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