By Anthony Galloway, Pagemasters
The Townsville Crocodiles have survived a fourth-quarter shooting blitz from the Wollongong Hawks to record a 69-64 home win and keep their slim finals chances alive.
After being kept quiet all night, Hawks guard Adris Deleon exploded in the fourth with eight points, including two three-pointers, turning a 12-point deficit into a one-point game, but the Crocs survived thanks to some clutch plays by point guard Gary Ervin and a late triple from shooting guard Michael Cedar.
Ervin (24 points, six rebounds) was inspirational for the home side in the second half, while centre Luke Nevill (13 points) regained his form to give Townsville an edge inside the paint.
For the Hawks, Deleon (12 points, seven rebounds) and new recruit Malcolm Grant (11 points) put in solid performances.
Crocs coach Paul Woolpert said keeping the dynamic Deleon quiet for most of the game was instrumental in the win.
"We changed our starting line-up and started Mick Cedar on him and I thought he did a fantastic job. We kept him out of the paint and when he gets into the paint he can create a lot," Woolpert said.
"For 36 or 37 minutes we played pretty good defence, and they have some outstanding basketball players in their team who made some fantastic shots (in the fourth quarter), and they still made those shots over contested hands.
Hawks coach Geordie McLeod said his team fought hard but let the game slip away in the third quarter through a lack of execution on both ends of the floor.
"We did a pretty good job in the first two quarters of disrupting the Crocs, " McLeod.
"In the third quarter we just gave way too many easy points in the paint."
The Hawks were getting to the rim at will in the first quarter behind six points from Grant, who provided some much-needed fire power off the bench.
But Crocs guard Peter Crawford (6 points) kept the home side close, shooting a timely step-back three halfway through the term.
Temperatures became heated at the start of the second quarter when, after falling over following a missed shot, Jacob Holmes tripped Hawks forward Tyson Demos and both players became involved in a scuffle.
It seemed to work in the Crocs' favour, and moments later Nevill delivered a tomahawk jam over Hawks forward Oscar Forman.
But Forman shot back with five of his own points and the Hawks headed into half-time with a two point lead.
The Crocs started off the third on a 15-2 run, which included eight points from Nevill.
Tim Coenraad and Grant kept the Hawks close, but Ervin, who was effortlessly driving to the basket, bagged 10 points in the term to put the Crocs up eight heading into the last quarter.
The Hawks went on a shooting blitz in the fourth, with four three-pointers by Grant, Demos and Deleon putting them within one with less than a minute remaining.
Hawks centre Larry Davidson had a chance to tie the game with seconds remaining but missed a contested three, before Crocs swingman Todd Blanchfield iced two at the line to put the game out of reach.
Woolpert said there was "no question" his team could still make the finals.
"As long as we have a fighting chance we're going to fight to win basketball games, and tonight was pretty indicative of that," Woolpert said.
Townsville Crocodiles 69 (Ervin 24, Nevill 13, Holmes, Blanchfield 10)
Wollongong Hawks 64 (Deleon 12, Grant 11, Gruber 10)
Crowd: 3381 at Townsville Entertainment Centre