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R9 Report: Hot Hawks stamp contender claim

The Illawarra Hawks survived a furious fourth-quarter fightback to claim a spine-tingling 102-87 victory over NBL leaders Melbourne United on Thursday night at WIN Entertainment Centre.

Pumped up to avenge a 93-81 road loss to Melbourne in Round One the Hawks had all the answers, romping to their third straight win to grab a share of fourth spot.

Illawarra’s big three of AJ Ogilvy, Kirk Penney and Kevin Lisch were constant threats, supplying 64 per cent of their team’s offensive output.

Experienced Hawks playmaker Rhys Martin made a triumphant return after missing the first 12 games with a knee injury.

“I’ve always said Rhys is the X-factor in this team,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said post-game.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the league.”

Playing 21 minutes off the bench, the veteran floor general contributed eight points and a team-high five assists and was relieved to get his first game under his belt.

Martin got the call from Beveridge in crunch time and hit a clutch three from the corner when Melbourne were threatening to draw level.

“It’s awesome to be back,” Martin said.

“This is a great group. This is probably the best basketball we’ve played in a long time.”

Lisch was superb with a game-high 26 points, Penney had 25 and Ogilvy was all over the court with 15 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks and four steals.

Chris Goulding tallied 25 for Melbourne and Daniel Kickert finished with 21.

Penney and Lisch paced the Hawks in the opening minutes, but Kickert was on fire at the other end.

Neither team was shy about firing away on the first open look and it reflected on the scoreboard.

But despite nailing four-of-five from downtown, the visitors trailed 30-28 after 10 minutes.

The Hawks showed no signs of slowing down, seizing the momentum with a scorching 9-0 run.

Lisch was in a groove, scoring his team’s final six points of the quarter to stretch the lead to 59-46 at half time.

The margin continued to swell in the third period, blowing out to 25 after Ogilvy - the NBL’s steals leader - intercepted a loose pass and sprinted away for an uncontested dunk.

Melbourne were down 82-68 at three-quarter time and cut it to four before the Hawks made crucial plays in the final three minutes to clinch victory.

United (10-4) have dropped four of their past five games and have perennial heavyweights Perth (9-5) and New Zealand (8-5) snapping at their heels.

“Illawarra played a great game,” Melbourne coach Dean Demopoulos said.

“We see them two more times and we’ll see what happens the next two.”

Melbourne have 48 hours to prepare for Sunday’s home meeting with the Adelaide 36ers, while the Hawks will hit the hardwood in their Round 10 home and away duels with the inconsistent Cairns Taipans.

Illawarra are on their home court against the Taipans next Wednesday before Cairns play host to the Hawks two days later.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 102 (Lisch 26, Penney 25, Ogilvy 15)

MELBOURNE UNITED 87 (Goulding 25, Kickert 21, Warrick 13)

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