R13: Illawarra Hawks vs SE Melbourne Phoenix

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 9 April

WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
SE Melbourne 95 (Broekhoff 26, Wetzell 18, Gliddon 15) d Illawarra 63 (Jessup 21, Froling 10), Round 12, WIN Entertainment Centre

This was the night Ryan Broekhoff decided to have his NBL coming out party at the Sandpit, draining 7-of-11 from deep to blow the Hawks off the court. Remarkably, he wasn’t the most effective player on the floor, Yanni Wetzell with 18 points at 87 per cent, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and an incredible +37 in 35 minutes taking that honour, as the Phoenix dominated to the tune of 80-38 after quarter-time.

The now
It was not a good 30 minutes for Illawarra basketball as the toll from their road-heavy schedule showed, and things have not gotten much better as their offence continues to labour. A 12-point loss to the struggling Sixers followed, then they surrendered a 14-point lead to the Bullets on Wednesday in the Gong to sink to their fifth loss in six games, making their back-to-back Round 9 wins over Sydney and Melbourne seem like a distant memory.

SE Melbourne’s tale is a very different one, winners of six of their past seven, with 10 scores above 90 in their past 13 games making a mockery of the league-wide scoring slowdown. No team can count on as many contributors as the Phoenix, who have had eight players score in double figures across their past five wins, with the injured Keifer Sykes not one of them. With their D now notching some impressive numbers, this is a team to be reckoned with.

The stats

 - The Phoenix have allowed just 76ppg over the past three games, after leaking 89.6ppg in their opening 17 outings, and holding just two opponents below 80 points

 - Illawarra average 73.4ppg at 39 per cent in three meetings with the Phoenix. The rest of the league have scored 90.1ppg at 49 per cent on Simon Mitchell’s men

 - SE Melbourne have six players in the top 30 scorers in the Hungry Jack’s NBL. Melbourne with four are the only other team with more than three in that bracket

 - The Hawks have scored 72.3ppg in their past three games, hitting just 6 triples per night at 24 per cent. Prior to that they averaged 86.3ppg on 10.9 three-pointers at 31 per cent

The key men

Mitch Creek – In his first game back after standing down, Creek wasn’t his usual self in Round 12 against the Hawks, contributing just 2 points and 2 assists while turning the ball over three times and being swatted twice. He was back to his best against NZ last week with 24 points and 8 boards, and in the nine games surrounding that quiet game in Wollongong he’s averaged 23.9 points at 56 per cent, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

Justinian Jessup – With Harvey limited by injury and D last time against SE Melbourne, Jessup shone with 21 points at 56 per cent, hitting 3-of-6 three-pointers. He’s nailed 47 per cent from range in Illawarra wins, compared to 38 per cent in defeat, but the biggest issue is consistency. The Warriors draft pick’s past seven games have delivered 43%, 17%, 50%, 0%, 43%, 17% and 50% from outside, and the Hawks’ offence has suffered as a result.

The quotes

It’s not really accurate to say the Hawks’ last meeting with SE Melbourne wasn’t one to remember, because they sure won’t forget it for a while.

“You can handle defeat, you can handle rough patches, but I thought there was no spit to it at all, no push of the ball, no pressure. Manhandled, we were like little kids,” coach Brian Goorjian said.

After leading by 10 at quarter-time things started to slide, but they still led by two when Tyler Harvey checked out for the night with a back complaint midway through the third term. Then things really got ugly with Cam Bairstow also on the sidelines.

“No excuses, but finding out a bit about the team when Tyler’s not there, that’s who we play through on the perimeter, he runs everything,” Goorjian said.

“Then in the low block, the guy we roll the ball into and move off is Cam, so we really haven't had that combination out, and we had nothing offensively, zero, no perimeter threat, nothing on the box, and we played it backwards, that led to a letdown defensively.

“I thought the guys we have with those two out would defend, and that’s the part that shocked me. Lazy, allowing perimeter shots, poor on-ball defence, poor on the block-out, I think everyone in the locker room, everyone in the stadium is in shock, I just didn’t expect that.”

It continued a two-season trend, the Hawks yet to beat SE Melbourne in their short NBL existence, with the past three losses by a combined 65 points.

“I thought the first two (meetings) were no answer for Mitch Creek, we had nothing for that, a matchup problem there,” Goorjian said.

“But tonight, the addition of Broekhoff and Gliddon, now you’ve got another perimeter shooter and add in Gibson, they’ve added in those pieces and they're bigs are serviceable, so the perimeter shot tonight was a real killer.

“I thought we did a pretty good job on Mitch, but that certainly wasn’t the answer.”

Creek’s quiet night certainly wasn’t a concern for Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell.

“It wasn’t his night but there were a few other guys firing, that’s the way this team has been put together, we always defer to the guy who’s got it going,” he said.

“I was really proud of the 27 assists the guys had, they're looking for each other. I loved our bench tonight and the way they celebrated success of the guys out on the floor, that’s a special feeling and I think we've got a special group.”

The scary thing is Creek rediscovered his best form last round against New Zealand, and Keifer Sykes is set to resume in the Gong on Friday.

With that duo and Kyle Adnam able to attack a court spread by Gliddon and Broekhoff, the Illawarra defence has their work cut out.

“They space the floor so well, they demand a lot of attention, so when it comes to our pick-and-roll action we can play that two-man game, myself and Yanni or Ben, whoever the bigs are,” Adnam said.

“They're amazing to play with and we saw it tonight, Rowdy made a few shots and he can get hot pretty quick, and we've seen Glizzo do the same.”

Yet while it’s a huge challenge, the Hawks know defence is the best remedy for their woes at the other end.

“I think the answer is we look best when we get stops on defence and run,” Sam Froling said post-game.

“We did that in the first quarter and then it kind of died off. I think that’s our style of play and if we get back to that, that’s when we look good.”


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