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R13 Preview: Townsville v Illawarra

Who: Townsville Crocodiles v Illawarra Hawks When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 31 December Where: Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Illawarra 108 (Penney 31, Lisch 15, Ogilvy 13) d Townsville 70 (Conklin 20, Kay 14, Jett 11), Round 8, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong THE MATCH-UP Jordair Jett v Kevin Lisch – These former St Louis University standouts provide their teams with lockdown defence on scoring guards and high-quality playmaking and scoring from the two-spot. Lisch does the most damage with his jumpshot while Jett’s penetration makes Townsville’s offence hum, but in the first two match-ups the more experienced Hawk has had the upper hand. THE STATS Lisch and Kirk Penney have combined to average 47.5 points and 7.5 assists against the Crocs this season, shooting 56 per cent from the field and 48 per cent from long range. In wins Jett averages 18.9 points, 4.3 assists and 5.9 free-throw attempts. In defeat those numbers are 12.6, 2.1 and 2.1. THE STORY Townsville have won three of their past five games, and it’s no surprise that shooting guard Jordair Jett has been at the forefront, scoring almost a quarter of his team’s points in that stretch. “Now that you see him really starting to get into shape you are starting to see how good he is,” coach Shawn Dennis said. “That’s the guy we always believed he was and that’s why we never gave up on him.” Yet while the rookie import is started to be recognised as a high-quality import, he hasn’t had a happy time against Illawarra this season, averaging just 8.0 points and 1.5 assists in two meetings. Defensively Jett has claimed some big scalps this season too, but he and the Crocs have had no answer for Illawarra’s dynamic perimeter duo of Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney. For coach Shawn Dennis, his team’s struggles against the Hawks have actually started with their shortcomings against the defensive schemes of Hawks coach Rob Beveridge. “It’s pretty disappointing because you look at some of the games this year where we’ve dealt (well) with pressure,” Dennis said. “You know what they're going to do, Illawarra under Bevo, there’s no secret … We took too many shortcuts, you can’t do that against that pressure defence.” Poor shot selection and cheap turnovers have meant Lisch and Penney have been able to attack before the defence is set. “Once they start hitting shots it becomes a difficult thing to defend, they’ve got so much firepower, particularly with the big three,” Dennis said. While Illawarra racked up 108 points at 50 per cent in Round 8, the Crocs haven’t had a similar lapse since, holding their past two opponents to a combined 134 points at 39 per cent. Dennis, however, says there was more to his team’s defensive performance in the Round 11 win over Perth than pure numbers. “Our defence really kept us in the game,” he said. “The difference tonight was that it generated some baskets for us.” The coach of the year contender believes his team is getting a better “understanding what it takes to win at this level”, particular against an offensive juggernaut like the Hawks. “It’s putting longer performances in, that’s got to be our goal,” he said. “(Illawarra) will want to get that thing running up and down and put 100 points on, so we’ve got to come up with a way not to allow that to happen.” THE WRAP If Townsville aren’t ready to go from tip-off they’ll never be, having been outscored 64-31 by the Hawks in the two opening terms of the first two meetings. Crocs guards Mitch Norton, Corey Maynard and Jett must have composure in the face of Illawarra’s pressure, but the likes of Clint Steindl, Nick Kay, Leon Henry and Mitch Young will need to handle the ball and make good decisions. No team scrambles defensively better than Townsville, with Kay and Young leading the way, but no line-up can spread the floor like the Hawks, particularly with Jarrad Weeks, Kevin White, Larry Davidson and Cody Ellis shooting a combined 8-of-19 from deep in Round 11. If Norton and Co can control the tempo and take predictable shots their defence has a chance, but if the Crocs are forced to rotate from early in the shot clock their lack of true size inside will be exposed by AJ Ogilvy, who has scored 41 points in 44 minutes against Townsville.
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