FORGET match of the season, the Illawarra faithful may well have witnessed the match of the decade – and one of the finest of the 40-minute era – at the WEC on Friday night.
However, that distinction will only go some way to easing the pain of the Hawks 123-122 loss to defending champions Melbourne United that required four periods of overtime, and just shy of three hours, to see a result.
Coach Rob Beveridge has promised hustle and effort from his side, and the fans certainly got that, with the Hawks trailing by nine in both the third and fourth quarters only to tie the match up three times on the buzzer.
New recruit Todd Blanchfield proved the clutch man for the Hawks, tying the match three times from downtown, including the triple that sent the match into it's second overtime.
He also cut a five-point deficit to two in the dying seconds of the first overtime, opening the door for Brian Conklin to stamp an eight-point term with mid-range buzzer-beater to keep the match alive.
The Hawks again looked dead and buried in the third extra term when United again had a four-point lead on the back of consecutive threes to Casper Ware and Dave Barlow.
Instead, Jett and Conklin both went 1-2 from the line before AJ Ogilvy forced a turnover and sent Jett up the floor for a lay-up to tie the game at 116-116 with 1.9 seconds on the clock.
Incredibly, Josh Boone missed a gimme lay-up under the basket to send the game into quadruple-overtime. Coming in cold, Dave Andersen showed his class, hitting back to back shots to give the Hawks their first two-score buffer of overtime.
It wasn't enough with a fresh Mitch McCarron completing a lay-up and three-point play, with the and-one taking a one-point lead the Hawks couldn't reel in.
Blanchfield finished with a game-high 26 points, with seven threes, seven rebounds and four assists in an outstanding debut for his new club, while Ogilvy had 15 points and a staggering 21 rebounds.
Conklin had nine of his 17 points in overtime, with seven rebounds, while Jett (16), Tim Coenraad (15) and Andersen (11) also finished with double figures.
It wasn't enough to get the win, but the performance proved the widely disregarded Hawks are a playoffs force to be reckoned with this season.
“That was a battle, I've never been in a four overtime game and I don't think any of these guys have,” Beveridge said.
“It was one of those games that could have gone either way, we could've won by point.
"The thing I got out of it was that we've been written off, we always are. We've been tipped to come eighth, Melbourne are the benchmark, they're the standard, they're the national champions.
"We played them first game and I think we made a statement tonight that, no matter what, we're going to fight to the very end. That's what we did and that's what we're trying to instill.
“It doesn't matter who we play, we're going to turn up every night. It was important to show our fans, and probably show people in the league, that we're not going to be easy-beats this season.”
Continuing a recent habit of tormenting the Hawks, Melbourne skipper Chris Goulding proved the key destroyer, tying the match with a late three at the end of the fourth quarter.
He then went three of three from long range in the first overtime period, with Blanchfield's equally sharp radar the only thing that kept the Hawks in it.
Goulding finished with 23 points, while Boone was the key man early in the match for United, finishing with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
DJ Kennedy also provided a handy 21 points and nine rebounds while Dave Barlow had an 11-10 double-double and McCarron (13 points) came up big down the stretch.
“It felt like we'd won the game two or three times but they were good enough to make big shots,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.
“Blanchfield hit a few and that clock just kept ticking over. We had lot of guys last year who you really trust and we saw big plays from some of those guys.
“There were some massive plays down the stretch. It was a hell of a basketball game, some great shot-making and some great defence.
“We thought we had it a couple of times but that home team just didn't give in tonight and always thought they had a chance to win. I put it right up there with the craziest games I've been a part of.”
It leaves the Hawks facing the monumental task of traveling to Perth to take on the Wildcats on Sunday afternoon, less than 48 hours after running Friday's marathon.
Both sides struggled to find their range early on, with the hosts going one of five from the field and the visitors 0-6 before Goulding hit his first three.
He followed up with another as United shot out to a 10-6 lead. Conklin had six of his side's first eight points, including a pair from the line to re-take the lead 11-10.
The margin swelled to three when Jett hit from the perimeter, with Blanchfield and Coenraad also getting in on the act from long-range. Ware and Moller had triples of their own to keep the gap at four at the first break.
Boone had back to back buckets to start the second, the first of eight points for the term, to quickly draw level. United took the lead on the back of a three from Barlow, though Coenraad hit straight back with a triple of his own to re-take the lead.
Both sides traded buckets with the scores locked six times with an and-one play from Jackson and a runner from Jett seeing the Hawks keep their four-point cushion at halftime.
Conklin and Jett had easy lay-ups to start the third, forcing a non-plussed Vickerman into an early timeout. It had the desired effect, with Barlow hitting from long-range and Boone dropping six straight points to take the lead 51-50.
Kennedy and Moller had threes, while Blanchfield also dropped his third triple keep his side in touch but United had their biggest lead of the match when McCarron knocked down a three to push the margin out to nine.
With the match seemingly slipping, skipper Kevin White came up with a pair of big plays, nailing a deep three and a steal on Ware to finish with a fast-break lay-up and cut the margin back to three at the final change.
The visitors quickly pushed their lead back out to eight on the back four quick points to Ware and another three from McCarron. Boone had four more as the lead again swelled to nine.
Coenraad stemmed the flow with his third three and the Hawks were back within three when Ogilvy had a neat tip-in and a rare three to bring the score back to 82-79.
Blanchfield leveled things again from the line before White produced a huge steal on Goulding, drawing an unsportsmanlike foul and nailing his two from the stripe to take the lead.
United quickly leveled through Barlow before the Hawks defence forced a shot-clock violation and let Beveridge call his last timeout with 52 seconds remaining.
Blanchfield lifted the roof off the WEC when he took the lead with his fourth three only for Goulding to respond with a monster at the other end to square things at 88.
The Hawks scrambled for a go-ahead and were on the wrong end of a review that gave possession back to visitors, though Barlow missed with his attempted buzzer-beater sending the match into overtime.