By Boden Westover, Pagemasters
The Wollongong Hawks have shocked the Melbourne Tigers with an inspiring 88-82 win at The Cage on Saturday night.
Out-scoring Melbourne 29-14 in the third quarter with some clutch shooting and gritty defence, the Hawks have shaken up the middle of the NBL ladder going in to finals.
Adris Deleon (31 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) was undoubtedly too hard to guard the entire game, ably assisted by the hot hand of pirate-themed Larry Davidson (23 points, 4 rebounds).
Melbourne, who suffered the pre-game withdrawal of centre Seth Scott, were led by Lucas Walker (18 points, 7 rebounds), Chris Goulding (21 points) and Jonny Flynn (13 points, 6 assists).
Both teams came to play from the start, getting up and down the court with efficiency and flair.
The slicing point guard play of Deleon provided Wollongong some instant offense, while Walker proved to be the super sub to compliment the confident Goulding for the home team.
Memorable moments early were a full-court Walker chest pass for a Goulding lay-up, and a tenacious Deleon out-hustling three Tigers’ players to a loose ball to keep the visitors even 23-23 at the first break.
The Tigers were at their best in the second with Flynn going up a level, but they couldn’t shake the determined Hawks, with only a Flynn buzzer-beating three-pointer giving the home team a 47-41 half-time lead.
“The big thing for us was our defence, which we spoke about at half-time,” Hawks coach Gordie McLeod said.
“We just gave up too much in the first half, picked it up in the second half and started to hit some shots, which is what you have to do when you play on the road.”
Wollongong exploded out of the locker rooms to start the second half, with Davidson dropping a couple of threes to keep things interesting, before back-to-back triples by Tim Coenraad and Tyson Demos put the Hawks ahead 56-55.
When Flynn went down injured behind the play, Walker responded with an unsportsmanlike foul attempting to stop the play.
Flynn added a technical limping off the court, Davidson was in the zone, and Wollongong found themselves up 70-61.
With the Tigers establishing a reputation for undisciplined play after the whistle, coach Chris Anstey was frustrated with his players’ lack of understanding of important moments.
“I’m just trying to figure out when some of our guys are going to learn,” Anstey said.
“Small things have big differences. We’ve tried everything and I’m just sick of it. We don’t understand how important it is, we just don’t get it.
“The negatives far out-weigh the positives right now.”
Losing momentum after their impressive third quarter, the Hawks lost their lead completely in the opening three minutes of the final term.
With Flynn lost to injury, Goulding tried putting his team on his back down the stretch, but after six consecutive points he crucially missed three-straight attempts.
Deleon then took over the game, frustrating Nate Tomlinson on both ends and playing party pooper for the Tigers’ only Saturday night at home and their teetering playoff chances.
The importance of tonight’s game wasn’t lost on the offensive firecracker.
“The way it’s going down right now, every game counts,” Deleon said.
"I was just real fired up about this game and I think the whole team was, right down to the coaching staff."
Wollongong Hawks 88 (Deleon 31, Davidson 23)
Melbourne Tigers 82 (Goulding 21, Walker 18, Flynn 13)
Crowd: 3500 at State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne