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Irresistible Hawks crush Sixers, set scoring record

No Lisch, no Penney – no worries for the Illawarra Hawks. Living up to their reputation as the NBL’s most explosive offensive team, the new-look Hawks opened their 2016/17 campaign with a bang, holding off a determined Adelaide 36ers to claim a pulsating 122-88 victory on Friday night at WIN Entertainment Centre. Rotnei Clarke led the home side with 23 points, Marvelle Harris had 21 points, seven assists and three steals in an impressive debut, while centre Michael Holyfield added 14 points and six rebounds off the bench. Mitch Creek led the Sixers with a game-high 24 points but was restricted by fouls when the Hawks seized control in the third period. Major Deng and Jerome Randle finished with 13 apiece for the Sixers, though Randle was scoreless in the second half. After easily leading the league in scoring with 94.2 points per game last season, the Hawks appear to have picked up where they left off, despite the offseason departure of 2016 NBL MVP Kevin Lisch and veteran sharpshooter Kirk Penney – their two top scorers. Illawarra dominated the second half, outscoring Adelaide 67-32 and proving their triumphant run at the recent Australian Basketball Challenge in Brisbane was no fluke. The Hawks quickly settled into a groove, bolting to an 11-2 lead and forcing Sixers coach Joey Wright to burn his first time out less than three minutes into the game. Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge shuffled bodies in and out, using all 11 of his players before quarter-time as the Hawks stretched the margin to 15. Wright also went deep into his bench, but the mercurial Randle was the only Sixer to do any damage as Illawarra led 31-22 after the first period. Mitch Creek provided a big spark for Adelaide in the opening minutes of the second quarter, scoring 11 straight points to cut Illawarra’s lead to four. The new-and-improved Creek was in the zone, scoring inside and outside to boost his tally to 21 at half-time, while rookie forward Majok Deng found his range for a valuable eight points off the bench. The Hawks lost their way offensively (8/24 field goals in the quarter) and trailed 56-55 at the main break. Adelaide were up by four early in the third period before veteran Illawarra forward Oscar Forman lit up with 11 quick-fire points to ignite a game-changing run from which the visitors never recovered. The Sixers suffered a telling blow when Creek headed to the bench with his fourth foul. Illawarra capitalised with a devastating surge, splashing 7/12 threes in the quarter to build a commanding 89-66 lead. They continued to pile on the points, finishing with the highest team total of any team since the NBL changed from 12-minute to 10-minute quarters in 2010. “We relied on offence to keep us in it in the first half; and when the offence dried up, the defence still wasn’t there,” Wright said after the game. “It’s a bad cocktail just to rely on your offence. Illawarra is a better offensive team than we are so you don’t want to get into a shooting match with them.” Beveridge is confident his side won’t get carried away with their five-star performance. “There’s absolutely zero chance of that happening,” he said. “They out-worked us in the second quarter and we gave up too many points. “It’s wonderful to get that first win and the guys put a show on in the second half. It was almost like a tsunami. “But there’s no way we’ll get ahead of ourselves because we showed a weakness with too many breakdowns in that second quarter.” Illawarra are back on their home court for a Round 2 clash with archrivals Sydney next Thursday, while the Sixers host Melbourne on Friday night.   ILLAWARRA HAWKS 122 (Rotnei Clarke 23, Marvelle Harris 21, Michael Holyfield 14) ADELAIDE 36ERS 88 (Mitch Creek 24, Jerome Randle 13, Majok Deng 13) BOX SCORE  
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