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Harris, Hawks beat brave 'Cats

The Illawarra Hawks got their season back on track with a bruising 81-76 defeat of reigning NBL champions Perth on Friday night at WIN Entertainment Centre. After having their toughness questioned by coach Rob Beveridge earlier in the week, the Hawks stood toe-to-toe with the injury-depleted Wildcats, breaking a four-game losing slide with their second win of the season. American guard Marvelle Harris (27 points) was the main destroyer for Illawarra, while backup centre Mike Holyfield (eight points, six rebounds) was a key contributor off the bench. Perth were without injured point guards Damian Martin and Jarrod Kenny and made an import change during the week. Up by two at half-time, the Hawks stretched the margin to five at three-quarter time before keeping the never-say-die 'Cats at bay in an intensely physical final period. The home side made it hard for themselves with missed free throws in crunch time but did enough to claim victory. Perth were led by import Casey Prather’s 20 points and sweet shooter Dexter Kernich-Drew finished with 14 off the bench. Illawarra made just 37 per cent of their shots compared to the 'Cats’ 43 per cent, but dominated the rebound battle 48-39. Prather and Knight were hot early and the 'Cats bolted to a 22-17 lead. The Hawks endured a tentative start before Rotnei Clarke and Harris got them going, while Holyfield slammed home an alley-oop pass from Rhys Martin to lock the score at 24-all at quarter-time. Neither team was prepared to budge and the score was tied at 35-all with five minutes left in the half. Harris broke the deadlock with a short runner in the lane and followed with a steal and dunk, helping Illawarra build a six-point lead. But it was short-lived, as 'Cats bench bomber Kernich-Drew drained a three and two free throws to cut the margin to one. Harris got the Hawks back up by three, only to see Prather score on a smooth baseline runner and draw the foul. Prather’s ensuing free throw tied it up before Holyfield scored on a put-back slam on the buzzer to for a 47-45 half time lead. Underlining the closeness of the contest was the fact the first half featured six ties and three lead changes. Harris had 17 points and Prather led his side with 13. The Hawks caught a break when Prather headed to the bench with his fourth foul midway through the third period, but they had their own concerns when centre AJ Ogilvy picked up his fourth foul a minute later. Illawarra took advantage of Prather’s absence and built a seven-point lead – the biggest margin of the game. The tenacious 'Cats typically kept fighting and trailed 67-62 with a quarter to play. Illawarra led by as many as 10 in the fourth period and held their nerve to claim the win. "Tonight really showed that we're evolving as a group, that we can grind out those kinds of wins. So there's good progression for us there," Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge said after the game. "There was enormous amount of external pressure put on the guys and we addressed certain things this week with a few home truths. The guys were great. They all stood up and showed their character." And Harris was happy to lead from the front. "I just came out being aggressive and got back to the way I play," he said. "The guys told me to play my game and had confidence in me, and that always helps." The Wildcats kept the loss in perspective. "You can make all the excuses about injuries and whatever else but we had our opportunities and didn't make some open looks in the fourth quarter," Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said. "We had our chances and we didn't execute in the fourth quarter," Wildcats forward Shawn Redhage said. "We'll learn from this and the adversity we faced this week will help us down the line." The Hawks have a small window to prepare for Sunday night’s home meeting with the Cairns Taipans, who broke through for their first win with Thursday night’s 83-76 defeat of Melbourne United. The Wildcats are back on their home court in round five with next Friday’s clash with the Adelaide 36ers.   ILLAWARRA HAWKS 81 (Harris 27, Clarke 10, Norton 8) PERTH WILDCATS 76 (Prather 20, Kernich-Drew 14, Wagstaff 10) BOX SCORE
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