Illawarra have finally returned the winners' circle, a late-game explosion from import guard Justin Robinson spurring the Hawks to a 113-106 win over the Phoenix in Wollongong.
In just his third outing as a Hawk more than 12 months after first linking with the club, Robinson had eight points and a lone assist at the half but finished with 26 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in a stirring display that reminded all of the former NBA point-guard's class.
Locked in from the tip, Robinson found another gear late in the clash after a heated verbal exchange with young Phoenix guard Ben Ayre, beating the buzzer with a tough finish on three-quarter-time and opening the fourth term with back-to-back threes.
He also drew an offensive foul from Phoenix star Will Cummings, who subsequently fouled out as the Hawks entire line-up produced a fiery response to two questionable calls that went against them with the scores locked at 89 apiece.
Skipper Tyler Harvey was called for highly dubious unsportsmanlike foul on Phoenix star Gary Browne, with Robinson also called for a foul on Browne beyond the three-point line.
He immediately disputed the call that was upheld despite replays appearing to show that Robinson hadn't fouled. Browne made all five free-throws, but it proved the visitors last hurrah, the Hawks going 11-0 from there for a lead the Phoenix never came close to pegging back.
Robinson's back-court foil Harvey had 13 of his 20 points in the second term and finished 3-5 from long range, while his co-captain Sam Froling had 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Third import Gary Clark showed flashes of his pedigree with 10 points and five rebounds on a night coach Jacob Jackomas kept his starting group on high rotation, with four of five starters logging 25-plus minutes.
With replacement import Tyler Cook watching on through dark sunglasses after suffering a nasty eye injury in Thursday night's loss to the Taipans, Will Cummings was outstanding for the visitors with 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists despite falling into early foul trouble.
Mitch Creek also dug deep with 24 points, eight rebounds and three assists but the duo ultimately ran out of steam as the Hawks found their groove late for their first win at home since December last year.
Jackomas wasn't getting too carried away with the win, but conceded he was happy to let his players do so after finally sending the Wollongong faithful home happy.
"We come from a different spot where we had a lot of disappointment last year and we never sat in this seat [post-win] like this," Jackomas said.
"We're enjoying it probably a little bit too much, not really talking about what we could do better and this and that. We'll enjoy it tonight and then we'll hit the boys with that on Monday.
"[Phoenix] came in, they played pretty hard, they tested us a couple of times, we were able to ride it. If you want to bring something [negative] up, the 106 [conceded] isn't a, a great thing for us, but if it's that kind of game, it's that kind of game so we're not going to dwell on it too much.
"That's not a realistic thing every game, but we needed to pull something to to get the monkey off our back, we need to pull something like that. The main guys played great, but certain guys that play roles came in and did their jobs as well.
"We won't get too carried away on Monday, but tonight they can do what they want."
It was a crucial victory for the Hawks, who head into a tough Tasmania-Adelaide road double next week ahead of a return to Wollongong to take on Melbourne United.
An 0-2 would have been disastrous, but splitting their opening two will provide some breathing space and begin to cast off the ghosts of last season that were seemingly re-awakened following a first-up loss to the Kings.
A frank Jackomas admitted the gravity of a potential 0-2 home start had crossed his mind.
"Yeah, I did think of that and I was really nervous about it," Jackomas said.
"It was important, but this road double's important right now. We've really got a challenge [in front of us]. Tassie is a tough place to play, they're a good basketball team, they just beat a team that we lost to (Sydney).
"It's going to be another challenge for us right now. We'll make some, we'll fail some, and we'll just keep moving forward that way and keep responding to challenges."
Dan Grida and Creek traded early threes before back-to-back runners from Harvey gave the Hawks a four-point buffer. It was part of a 12-4 run for the hosts that saw the lead creep out to seven.
After sitting with his second foul early in the term, Cummings finished the term strongly with a three-point play and back-to-back threes to take his tally to 11 for the term and draw level. Lee and Reuben Te Rangi got in on the long-range act, trading trebles to lock the scores at 26 apiece quarter-time.
Cummings pushed his tally to 14 early in the second, but a corner three from Harvey punctuating a 13-7 run that forced Mike Kelly into a timeout. Harvey took charge from there, draining two long bombs and a three-point play with 13 points for the term and 17 at the half at 7-9 from the field.
Creek had eight in response to take his halftime-tally to 15 as the visitors trailed 65-60 at the main break.
The Phoenix were in the bonus early in the third, but a fast break slam from Clark for a six-point cushion saw Kelly quickly call timeout. Creek missed two from the line but atoned with a deep three next time up the floor with another triple from Cummings locking the scores at 70 apiece and forcing Jackomas into a timeout.
The Phoenix led for the first time since the opening term on consecutive threes to Te Rangi and Ayre as the visitors slipped out to a three-point lead with a minute to play in the quarter.
Lachlan Olbrich fired back from long range to again square the ledger and take his tally to eight for the term, with Creek and Robinson trading baskets to close the quarter locked at 82-82.
Robinson exploded with two trebles to start the fourth, with the questionable officiating lighting a fire under the hosts who responded with back-to-back threes to Huyanjung Lee and a follow-up from Harvey that proved the dagger blow on an 11-0 run. It buried the last of the visitors resistance.
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