The Illawarra Hawks boosted their NBL top-four claims with a measured 95-84 road victory over Cairns Taipans on Friday night.
Illawarra led at every change to strengthen their record to 5-7 for the campaign, with another tough road trip to face Adelaide 36ers looming on Sunday.
Hawks swingman Todd Blanchfield led his side with 20 points and eight rebounds. Brian Conklin had 17 points while Tim Coenraad (14 points) and Jordair Jett (13 points) were both productive off the bench.
Cairns’ imports combined for 55 of their side’s 84 points.
DJ Newbill led all scorers with 21 points, with Melo Trimble (19 points) and Devon Hall (15 points, nine rebounds) both productive.
Illawarra started the better, but their woes from the free throw line continued early on after they shot just 3/9 from the charity stripe in the first quarter.
They still managed to claw their way to a five-point lead at the first break on the back of a late corner three from bench weapon Coenraad.
Less than two minutes into the second period the Hawks’ advantage had grown to double digits when Daniel Grida nailed another from outside.
Jett’s third steal of the quarter allowed Emmett Naar to race away on the fast break and finish to put Illawarra 36-26 in front.
Cairns gave up 10 turnovers in the first half, but only went into the main change 49-41 down after Trimble drove to the basket and finished at the buzzer.
Coenraad’s hot hand continued in the third and when he hit his fourth three of the night it extended Illawarra’s lead to 13-points.
The hosts would need something special to spark their fight back and got it from Nathan Jawai.
The Boomers representative pulled off a huge put-back dunk before adding another from the free throw line to keep Cairns in the hunt.
A clutch make from the corner by Cairns veteran Alex Loughton ensured Illawarra only crept into the fourth term with a 71-64 lead.
Cairns stayed in touch from beyond the arc, but struggled to contain the Hawks at the opposite end of the floor.
An up and under at the buzzer from Taipans star Newbill had the seven points behind with 3:07 remaining.
It turned into a foul game over the final two minutes as Illawarra fought their way to a 11-point win.