Less than 48 hours after an embarrassing thrashing from Adelaide, the Illawarra Hawks emphatically redeemed themselves with a comprehensive 106-88 defeat of Melbourne United at WIN Entertainment Centre on Saturday.
American guard Rotnei Clarke posted a game-high 25 points for Illawarra to go with four assists and three steals, Tim Coenraad and Nick Kay combined for 35 points, while AJ Ogilvy stuffed the stats sheet with 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Melbourne United ace Chris Goulding watched the entire second half from the bench, with club officials keeping their cards close to their chest, citing ‘rest’.
Goulding finished with eight points on 3/10 shooting and was noticeably limping during the half-time break.
The visitors missed his experience as much as they did his scoring punch in the second half, as Illawarra took control to claim their 11th win of the season and swap places with Melbourne (now 10-10) on the ladder.
“The game against Adelaide was as bad as this group has ever played together, but that challenged us because we’ve worked too hard to let this go,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said after the win.
“Tonight, we were outstanding defensively against one of the most potent teams in the league and I’m unbelievably proud of these guys.
“For us to turn that around in 48 hours from a pitiful performance to an outstanding performance shows what a mental game this is.”
Main man in the middle Ogilvy was on a mission from the opening tip.
“Coming out tonight my focus was to play defence and get rebounds,” Ogilvy said.
“We’re proud people and professional athletes. We didn’t like losing and we especially don’t like losing the way we did in Adelaide.
“Everyone had a chip on their shoulder tonight. I know I came out thinking I wasn’t going to let that happen again.”
Casper Ware led Melbourne with 21 points, while Nate Tomlinson and Tai Wesley combined for 31.
As he has done throughout the season, Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge tinkered with his line-up, elevating Rhys Martin, Kay and Coenraad to the starting five.
Kay scored six of his team’s first eight points, while Melbourne centre Majok Majok established himself early with three quick buckets in the paint.
The Hawks kept making the same defensive mistake of losing Goulding and he duly punished them with a couple of threes for a 20-16 lead.
Illawarra’s Oscar Forman immediately got his eye in with a pair of triples off the bench before Tomlinson got a friendly roll on a long bomb in the final seconds to tie it up at 25-all at quarter-time.
Ware provided another example of his crowd-pleasing ways with a 40-foot bank shot straight out of the Harlem Globetrotters playbook as the shot clock was about to expire.
Clarke responded with a three at the other end, but Melbourne were on fire from the perimeter, repeatedly finding the open man and connecting on 11/18 three-point attempts in the half.
The combined production of Clarke and Ogilvy kept the Hawks in front throughout the second period before Coenraad drilled a three to stretch the margin to nine.
Ware took some shine off Illawarra’s scoring surge with a buzzer-beating triple which cut the lead to 57-51 at half-time.
Taking advantage of Goulding’s absence, the Hawks stepped on the gas in the third period, pushing the margin out to 15.
Melbourne briefly cut the deficit to 10 but the home side wouldn’t be denied, running away with the game in the fourth quarter.
“They played terrific basketball. They beat us to the punch from the beginning of the game,” United coach Dean Demopoulos said.
“Coach Beveridge had his team prepared – I did not. End of story, that’s the way it goes.
“Give them credit. They were much better than we were today. We’ve got work to do.
“[Goulding] is getting looked at now. I don’t have a clue as to how concerned I should be, but I’m always concerned.
“This league, day in and day out is a snake fight. If you let your guard down you get bit, and hopefully it’s not lethal. Not yet, but it’s getting there.
“We have to make sure we make the most out of these next games that we play, each and every possession, and see where that takes us. Today we did not do that.”
Melbourne are on the road next Thursday against Adelaide before hosting Cairns 48 hours later, while Illawarra’s only round 15 game is at home against Brisbane next Friday.
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 106 (Clarke 25, Kay 20, Coenraad 15)
MELBOURNE UNITED 88 (Ware 21, Tomlinson 16, Wesley 15)