Wollongong's unbeaten start to the NBL season came to a shuddering halt with tonight’s surprise 65-51 road loss to the Sydney Kings.
The Hawks had won five from five heading into the all-NSW clash and were confident of edging closer to the club’s all-time best start of 7-0 set by the 1987 side.
But they were brought crashing back to earth, enduring an uncharacteristically bad shooting night as they struggled to come to terms with their arch rivals’ physical defence.
American guard Corin Henry starred for the Kings with 19 points, six rebounds and three steals, while Ian Crosswhite and Ben Madgen added 12 points each.
Rhys Martin (15) led Wollongong’s scoring, but he was the only player on his team to make at least 50 per cent of his shot attempts.
The Hawks connected on a dismal 31 per cent of their field goals, including a horrible 7/26 return from three-point range.
They had 14 turnovers to compared to 10 for their opponents and were out-rebounded 42-32.
Wollongong import Adris Deleon’s horror show summed up the Hawks’ night.
The reigning NBL Player of the Week finished with nine points but made just two of his 13 shots.
Lance Hurdle was 3/10, while Oscar Forman and Larry Davidson were each 1/6.
Scores were tied late in the third quarter, but the Hawks strangely lost their way in crunch time and were overrun in the final period.
Things looked rosy for Wollongong in the early stages.
They forced the Kings into a turnover in the opening seconds and went straight down the other end and executed a perfect pick-and-roll for Forman to drain a baseline jump-shot.
Glen Saville, Martin and Hurdle knocked down threes, while Deleon’s two free throws gave the visitors a 16-8 lead after five minutes.
The only black spot on Wollongong’s impressive start was a worrying foul count.
Davidson, Hurdle and Deleon each picked up two fouls in the first quarter, though they were let off the hook by Sydney’s poor free throw shooting (8/13).
With primary ball-carriers Martin, Deleon and Hurdle on the bench, the Kings did a good job of pressuring the Hawks into turnovers and poor shot selection, clawing their way back to tie the game at 19-all after one period.
Saville was the standout with seven points, two rebounds and two assists, while Madgen and Crosswhite had four points apiece for Sydney.
Henry came to life after a quiet opening quarter, scoring his team’s first seven points of the second period.
Hurdle kept Wollongong in touch with a couple of long three-pointers before they re-took the lead on Davidson’s turnaround jump-shot with four minutes left in the half.
But the Kings regained the momentum with consecutive baskets to forge ahead 32-29 in a dour first half.
After making 43 per cent of their shot attempts in the opening period, Wollongong could only manage 4/16 field goals in the second quarter.
Hurdle had nine points and Saville remained on seven, while pint-sized playmaker Henry was up to 10.
Deleon only had two points from the free throw line and missed his only two field goal atempts.
Sydney pushed the margin up to five but the Hawks fought back and knotted the score at 38-all with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
Henry reignited and hit a long three and another long bomb gave the Kings a 44-38 lead they never relinquished.
Deleon missed on a couple of three-point shots before Henry’s steal and uncontested layup made it 48-40 heading into the final period.
Henry was up to 17 points, while Wollongong were ice-cold with just 4/15 field goals in the third quarter.
Sydney increased the margin to 10 before Martin sparked a fightback to bring the Hawks within five with six minutes remaining.
The Kings improved their record to 4-4, while the league-leading Hawks are 5-1.
Wollongong will be aiming to bounce back in next Saturday’s home game against Cairns.
Meanwhile, In another NBL match tonight, the Melbourne Tigers scored a commanding 96-66 victory over the Adelaide 36ers at Hisense Arena.