Illawarra has survived a furious comeback from Brisbane to steal second place on the NBL ladder in a 91-85 overtime thriller on Monday night.
For 35 minutes, the Bullets were their own worst enemy and their lowest score of the season (70) was in mortal danger. Illawarra punished their lack of ball security, and blew the lead out to 17 in the third quarter. Goodnight? Not for birthday boy Torrey Craig (21 points, seven rebounds).
The import decided to blow out the candles on his cake late, with eight critical points down the stretch. Jermaine Beal (12 points, three assists) helped himself to the icing, stroking home the foul shots that pushed the game into extra time.
Stunned from watching their lead evaporate and forced to go into extra time without AJ Ogilvy (10 points, nine rebounds) and Marvelle Harris (10 points), who had both fouled out, the Hawks needed something special.
They found it in a Crocodile connection, with former Townsville teammates Nick Kay (14 points, six rebounds, three assists) and Mitch Norton (13 points, five assists) crashing the party and making off with the chocolates.
Coach Rob Beveridge knew his team had dodged a bullet – literally.
“If we had have lost that, I would have been devastated,” he said.
“We had brain farts at times that allowed them back in the game.
“On their home court, they are ramming it down your throat, the crowd is going nuts … the way we just fought together as a group in that overtime was pretty special.”
It was a game that Brisbane deserved to lose. Both teams had played 48 hours beforehand and it was the Bullets that came out more sluggish.
Rarely did their shooting percentage rise above 36 per cent, while no team should win with 25 turnovers against their name.
For three quarters and the best part of the final term, Illawarra made hay while the sun was shining.
Clarke, Ogilvy, Norton, Kay, Tim Coenraad and Cody Ellis all reached double figures as the lead blew out to 17.
But with 17 turnovers of their own in the match, the Hawks were winning without dominating.
The dour, slow-paced match between two of the league’s leaders saw 47 points scored from the foul line. On top of that, 10 were missed from the charity stripe.
That all changed when Craig went on his scoring spree, cranking up the game’s tempo and setting up a grandstand finish no one could see coming.
The win has lifted the Hawks to second on the ladder, while Brisbane clutches to a top four spot by their fingernails after losing four of their last five matches and three of their last four at home.
It could get worse for the Bullets, with Cameron Bairstow going down with a knee injury in the shadows of full-time, and was later seen on crutches.
While the early signs aren’t good for the Bullets big man, coach Andrej Lemanis said they would wait for medical advice.
“There is no point speculating at the moment, we will get the scans tomorrow and deal with whatever is front of us from there,” he said.
“[The initial diagnosis is] not good. Once we get all the information to hand we will just deal with that then.”
It is extra pain on a tough loss for Lemanis.
“You can’t win with 25 turnovers and I think four of them were in the overtime period,” he said.
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 91 (Kay 14, Norton 13, Clarke 12, Coenraad 12)
BRISBANE BULLETS 85 (Craig 21, Bairstow 16, Gibson 13)