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R18 Report: Hawks get out of jail in OT, lock in Finals

The Illawarra Hawks booked a guaranteed semi-finals berth after prevailing 104-97 in an overtime thriller against the Townsville Crocodiles on Saturday night at WIN Entertainment Centre. Illawarra’s 16th win assured them of a top four finish, regardless of next week’s final-round results. After leading for most of the game, the Hawks fell behind late in the fourth quarter before three straight threes by Cody Ellis, Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney tied the game at 89-all with 19.5 seconds remaining. The Crocodiles had little to play for other than pride, but they patiently followed their game plan and went perilously close to springing a shock upset. Townsville manhandled the Hawks in the paint, doubling their rebound total (46-23), and if it weren’t for their 15/31 return from three-point range the Hawks would not have pulled off their lucky escape. The Crocs built a four-point lead in the extra period before Lisch’s three-point play with 35.6 seconds to play gave Illawarra a lead they never relinquished. Lisch poured in a game-high 29 points, and Penney shot the lights out for 28 points (10/16 FGs) in his first game back from injury, while centre AJ Ogilvy finished with 19. Townsville were led by Nick Kay’s 24 points and 15 rebounds and guard Jordair Jett added 19. “It’s the great escape,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said post-game. “Townsville had us tonight and we were pretty lucky, but what a special moment for this club. From finishing last last year to making the playoffs is pretty special. “We showed amazing character tonight to not give in.” The visitors got an early jump on the Hawks before Penney and Lisch found their range to help the home team to an 18-11 lead. Back-up centre Larry Davidson showed off his latest hairstyle but it was his consecutive blocks that provided the real substance, having Illawarra fans high-fiving in the stands. The tenacious Crocs weren’t going anywhere, pounding the Hawks 11-3 under the boards to be down by three at quarter time. Every time the Hawks threatened to take control in the second period, the barrel-chested Jett brought them back into the contest with powerful drives to the basket. Illawarra’s ‘big three’ combined for 74 per cent of their first-half points, while the Crocs had four players in double figures and trailed 54-53 at the main break – despite owning an astonishing 21-5 rebound advantage. The third quarter followed the same script as the previous two, with Illawarra building a margin and the Crocs quickly fighting back. The visitors were up by eight late in the period before ex-Hawk Mirko Djeric drained a long three on the buzzer to make it 75-71 heading into the final quarter. Another Djeric three made it a one-point game before the Crocs grabbed their first lead since the opening period with six minutes remaining. They had their chances to steal victory but couldn’t get the job done in crunch time. “It’s devastating,” Crocs coach Shawn Dennis said. “We played the better basketball in the second half. Illawarra have monstered us in every game and to come in and deliver what we did for 37 or 38 of the 40 minutes - and Illawarra needed that win - was outstanding by us. I’m very proud of the guys but our inexperience showed in overtime.” The Hawks face an intriguing final-round clash with Adelaide next Friday, while the Crocs will be hellbent on wrapping up their 2015-16 campaign on a high note with home games against Cairns (Thursday) and Sydney (Saturday). ILLAWARRA HAWKS 104 (Lisch 29, Penney 28, Ogilvy 19) TOWNSVILLE CROCODILES 97 (Kay 24, Jett 19, Samhan 13) BOX SCORE
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