Tag: Brian Goorjian

Harvey erupts for 35, Hawks hold off Taipans by two points

ILLAWARRA Hawks’ star import Tyler Harvey went off in Sunday’s closer for a career night in scoring, leading his team to edge out the Cairns Taipans 82-80 and going two wins clear of the fourth ranked Brisbane Bullets in the NBL standings – bearing in mind the Bullets have three games in hand.

After a tough loss two games prior to last night at home, the Hawks wanted to get off to the best start possible in what was the last game of Illawarra’s three-game home stand. With this in mind, Illawarra’s home crowd spurred their team on to a five-point lead after the first quarter as Harvey put up 10 points in that time.

While Cairns started to strike back after being down 20-25 at the first break, it had to begin through their main weapons in Cameron Oliver and Scott Machado. But as Mike Kelly’s squad started to string together some much needed scores, Illawarra’s Deng Deng and Deng Adel made their presence known to the Taipans finishing strong at the tail-end of the second quarter to put the Hawks up by 11 points at half time.

It was obvious that Kelly needed to inspire his side to a strong start in the third and Oliver felt obliged to step in early as a result. As the Cairns center kept knocking down jumpers, Justin Simon and Sam Froling answered back with buckets of their own and the third quarter ensued.

Backed by Oliver’s 10 third quarter points, Cairns pulled back the margin from 11 points at half time to just five, after a good defensive period which led to the Taipans limiting the Hawks to just 10 points before the fourth got underway.

Both sides traded baskets back and forth during the first couple of minutes in the final term before Nathan Jawai scored five consecutive points to tie up the contest with eight minutes left to play.

The one player that Cairns could not figure out how to contain was Harvey, as the first season import exploded for a career-high night putting Illawarra in the best possible position to finish the contest strongly.

In the final minute, a Simon jumpshot would fall to put the Hawks up by four, however, Jordan Ngatai dropped a triple of his own with 14 seconds on the clock to keep those in attendance on edge.

Luckily enough, Justinian Jessup remained cool and composed under pressure hitting four-straight free throws, allowing the Hawks to walk away with a narrow two-point victory and cap off a successful three-game home stretch, winning two games out of three.

In many areas of last night’s closer, both teams were relatively even throughout the meeting, but Illawarra excelled at scoring in the paint and rebounding at both ends. On the other hand, Cairns were much more disciplined from the free throw line shooting 85 per cent from the charity strike (17-20) and knocked down nine triples compared to Illawarra’s seven. All in all, both the Hawks and the Taipans shot relatively well with the sides shooting 45 and 40 per cent from the field respectively.

There was no stopping Harvey on his way to a career-high 35 points shooting 13 of 24 attempts from the field, as well as three rebounds to add to his performance. Simon was the only other Hawk to crack double digits with 10 points and six rebounds, while Andrew Ogilvy led Brian Goorjian’s roster in rebounds and assists finishing his night with eight points, nine boards and five dimes.

For Cairns, Oliver was head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates with an impressive 27-point, 12-rebound and five-assist outing. A surprising notable performance by youngster Tad Dufelmeier would also be a main headline in the box score with the 24-year-old putting up a season-high 12 points in 13-and-a-half minutes of game time.

Cairns now look to end their three-game losing streak on Wednesday night when they host the Adelaide 36ers, who are hot off a motivating win against the Perth Wildcats. Illawarra Hawks will hope to do the same thing as they head to RAC Arena on Friday to face the defending champions and kick off a Round 14 that will entail clashes against two of the top teams in the NBL.

Illawarra digs deep to scorch Phoenix in the fourth, earn 82-80 win

REINVIGORATED by their head coach, the Illawarra Hawks charged back last night with an inspired fourth quarter effort to steal away a win against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, 82-80, ending a three-game losing streak and winning their second game in seven outings.

Sluggish would be a rather overstated way of describing the events of the first quarter, as the Hawks conducted their lowest scoring opening period of the season with just 10 points to their name and no individuals with multiple baskets after 10 minutes. The Phoenix were not much better as they were only able to produce 18 points, however, an eight-point lead is always welcome to an NBL side.

Two quick buckets from Sam Froling to open the second was a direct result of Brian Goorjian’s stern words at the first break and the deficit was made substantially smaller too. Before Illawarra could gather too much momentum, South East Melbourne held their own and managed to keep their noses in front after two quarters. But the Hawks’ missed opportunities had the hosts frustrated and when Keifer Sykes knocked down a transition and second chance three with less than two minutes remaining in the half, the Phoenix could smell blood in the water, leading at the midway point 41-30.

Things looked like they were getting out of hand for the Hawks after Kyle Adnam got the second half underway with back-to-back triples, although a three of his own from Justinian Jessup slowed the roll of the Phoenix. Nevertheless, Simon Mitchell’s side continued to keep their opponents at arm’s length while the Hawks kept biting away at their deficit on the scoreboard.

With Tyler Harvey and Jessup spreading the floor and making their shots, the Hawks would win the third quarter 25 to 20 and trail by just six points with the final term still to be played. Meanwhile, Sykes, Adnam and Mitchell Creek needed to find a way to put away Illawarra, who were trying to avoid a sixth loss in seven matches.

The Hawks kept banging on the door and in the last five minutes of the fourth, Illawarra’s final charge would be led by none other than Harvey after hitting another triple. Jessup then converted on an And-One, which preceded buckets by both Froling and Justin Simon, cutting the Phoenix’s lead to a single point.

With two and a half minutes to go, another three-pointer from Jessup would gift the home side the lead, which was further compounded by yet another triple via Harvey to put the Hawks up by as much as seven points. Adnam and the rest of the South East Melbourne shooters tried their best to shoot themselves back into the contest, but Illawarra’s last-minute stand was enough to end the team’s recent dry run of form, earning the two-point win in front of an ecstatic Hawks crowd.

Both sides improved their offensive output as the night progressed culminating in both the Hawks and the Phoenix finishing with 44 per cent efficiency from the field in shooting. Illawarra gained the upper hand in statistics like free throw shooting, steals, blocks and points from turnovers, whereas South East Melbourne earned the advantage in rebounds and assists. The Phoenix also outscored the Hawks off the bench with 31 of their points flowing through their secondary unit.

Many would have thought Harvey’s 22 points, six rebounds and four assists were going to be the main talking point, but Jessup’s 26 points, six rebounds and two steals were arguably just as, if not, more important than his teammate’s. Froling ended the game with 10 points and five rebounds, while Simon finished with eight points and six boards.

Performing at an elite level once again, Adnam shot for 22 points along with five threes at 70 per cent from the field. However, with the return of Creek (15 points and six rebounds) and Sykes (14 points), the Phoenix duo can expect more court time after being away from the game for an extended period of time.

Now that Illawarra are back in the top four, they will need to defend their position when they face off with the Cairns Taipans on Sunday to round out their three-game week. Two hours prior to that, the Phoenix will travel to Sydney to meet the Kings and try to avoid two losses in the same week.

One win in their last six, Hawks flying just below top-four as NBL21 winds down

LAST season the Cairns Taipans were the clear-cut most improved side of 2020 after a horror 2019 campaign. This season in 2021, that mantle falls to the Illawarra Hawks led by their hall of fame coach Brian Goorjian, as they pursue an unexpected top four spot that few would have predicted prior to the opening round with a current record of 10 wins and 11 losses.

Currently in the midst of a jam-packed three-game Round 13 and having won just a single game in their last six performances, Goorjian and his side are at a pivotal stage of their NBL season. If the Wollongong-based squad can emerge with a couple favourable results heading into next week, then Illawarra can create more margin for error with the limited games remaining at the tail end of the season.

However, the first of Illawarra’s three games in Round 13 did not bode well for the fifth-placed side, going down 82-88 to the Bullets last night after a lazy second half allowed the Bullets to capitalise in the last 20 minutes.

Going back to the start of the season, Illawarra’s fan base could not have asked for a better start rattling off four consecutive wins, all away from home, with Melbourne United being the only team with a win-loss record just as good earlier in the season.

The Hawks endured their first hardships of NBL21 when they went down to both Melbourne sides in the Phoenix and United back in Round 4 and 5. However, the Australian basketball community witnessed the Hawks’ ability to bounce back from defeat by toppling the Sydney Kings 85 to 82 straight after their losses.

With their win over the Kings, up next for Illawarra and the other eight sides would be the inaugural NBL Cup. For the Hawks in particular, the competition was one of highs and lows with the team finding neither good nor bad form. Illawarra split their eight matches over the four rounds with four wins and four defeats during their time down in Victoria.

Concluding the mid-season tournament tied for fourth place, it was back to the regular format of the NBL season, but the Hawks resumed their season in unceremonious fashion going down first in Melbourne against United, and then again to Perth in Western Australia. The luck briefly switched directions, when the Hawks beat the Brisbane Bullets to end Round 11, but Illawarra’s recent lack of form continued to today.

Losing both of their Round 12 contests by double digit margins (32 points to the Phoenix and 12 points to the Adelaide 36ers), it brings the Hawks to today as they attempt to solve a litany of issues on the offensive and defensive end during this late stage in the season, having won just one game in their last six outings.

Easily Illawarra’s primary scoring weapon, Tyler Harvey is aiming to make a name for himself on the professional stage and so far, he is doing just that. The 27-year-old more times than not has single-handedly wreaked havoc on defensive line-ups due to his silky ball-handling and ridiculously efficient floater game. This has seen the guard build up averages of 19.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Other key contributors have included Justinian Jessup (14.4 points and 4.4 rebounds), who exhibits sharpshooter qualities week in and week out, the big bodies of Cameron Bairstow (11.4 points and 6.2 rebounds) and Sam Froling (10.3 points and 7.2 rebounds) – the final individual to average double-digit point totals per game amongst the roster, Justin Simon (8.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists) who has shown glimpses of stellar play here and there, and finally Daniel Grida who will look to make an impact after returning from an ACL injury on Saturday against the Sixers.

While many players have provided either expected or impressive numbers to this point in the campaign, youngster Deng Adel has struggled to find his rhythm and really solidify himself amongst the Hawks. After averaging 15 points and 5.2 rebounds per game during his junior year at the University of Louisville, Adel has fallen flat in his rookie NBL fixture with just 6.7 points and four rebounds per game next to his name, with many keen to see what he can produce when he gets going.

Illawarra’s next two games at home bring the possibility of a positive trajectory up the standings as Sydney sit half a game above them in fourth position. But in their next encounter with the Phoenix on Friday night, perhaps some redemption can be earned by the Hawks after they suffered their biggest loss of the season against South East Melbourne not long ago. They then end their home stand by hosting the Cairns Taipans on Sunday before undertaking what will be very challenging Rounds 14 and 15 fixtures against Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Remaining contests in Round 16 and onwards are yet to be released.

Those who are faithful to the Hawks franchise are ready to explode with passion if their side can start winning contests. If given the chance to make their first postseason appearance since the 2016/17 campaign, then how far this team can go is limitless given the high calibre play that Goorjian’s players have shown on numerous occasions, particularly early on in NBL21.

Sixers hold strong after shaky third against Hawks, end five-game skid

MORE than 5,000 South Australians attended last night’s game to see the Adelaide 36ers snap their five-game losing streak winning 84-72, as they staved off an Illawarra Hawks comeback effort in which Brian Goorjian’s men unleashed an unbelievable third quarter performance.

Adelaide’s shooting was lacklustre at best in the first quarter, shooting just 31 per cent from the field. However, the 36ers would lead 21-17 after 10 minutes and they could credit this to their three triples, six free throws and Daniel Johnson’s eight points, as Illawarra was the less aggressive of the two teams and with Tyler Harvey out, the Hawks needed someone else to step up.

Capitalising on turnovers and converting on fastbreak opportunities, the 36ers pushed their lead out to double digits as a quick scoring run in the final few minutes of the first half saw the home side take command of the game. To add to this, after a Daniel Dillon put back layup with two seconds remaining in the second quarter it extended Adelaide’s favourable score line to 46-32 and the raucous crowd at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre proved to be a major contributor to that.

Backing up Johnson in the first half, Josh Giddey was again facilitating Adelaide’s offence with seven points and six assists, while Keanu Pinder had numerous highlights too with six points in the initial two periods. For Illawarra, their first half success flowed primarily through Emmett Naar who had 11 points and an assist, whereas Justinian Jessup had a modest eight points through two.

Bursting out of the gates after the halftime talks, the Hawks began the second half on a 7-0 scoring streak which blossomed into a 17-3 run to try and resolve their less than satisfactory start, tying things up less than four minutes into the third which was helped along by Justin Simon who was absent in the first and second terms.

Illawarra’s ridiculously good start to the third saw them take the lead a few minutes before the final break, but Johnson helped to ignite some fire into the Sixers squad by kicking off a 7-0 run of their own to take back the lead by three quarter time, putting their noses in front 59-56.

A three-pointer by way of Sunday Dech was the first of many promising signs in the fourth quarter for Adelaide. This preceded what would be a 25-16 final quarter for the home side and an air of relief for Adelaide’s fans, ending what has been almost a month of disappointment for their team as the 36ers took home the hard-earned win.

The 36ers were fortunate enough that their field goal percentage rose to an amicable 40 per cent on their way to victory, which would ascend higher than Illawarra’s 38 per cent, as the two sides were in opposite positions in the infancy stages of the contest. Superb free throw shooting from Adelaide was also pivotal (18/20) and 20 second chance points highlighted the Hawks’ troubles when it came to important rebounds that were missed.

Always a workhorse, Johnson concluded Saturday night with 26 points and a monstrous 15 rebounds, as his guard counterpart in Giddey once again put up near-triple-double numbers with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Pinder was as dominant as we have seen him this season with 10 points and three rebounds, as Brandon Paul contributed 10 points also. Jack McVeigh provided 10 points and five rebounds off the bench going three from three from the free throw line.

Jessup left Adelaide with a team-high 17 points and three blocks, as Naar had a less productive second half to round out his night with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Simon (13 points, three rebounds and three assists) and Sam Froling each added double digit nights (11 points and 12 rebounds) to round out Illawarra’s individual performances.

Adelaide will be the second of two opponents that the Perth Wildcats will face in Round 13 as the 36ers will need to play exceptionally well if they are to start mounting wins on top of wins, and it will be a true test of mettle against an in-form championship side. Illawarra will kick off Round 13 back at home when they host the Brisbane Bullets in what will be a contest of two teams keen to push for the four-spot in the standings.

Picture credit: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images

New Zealand reaching “breaking point” as Shamir’s side struggles to find consistency

DESPITE their less than desirable four-win and 10-loss record at this point in the season, it is important to remember that the New Zealand Breakers have only played 14 of their 28 NBL21 games, meaning that Dan Shamir’s side has plenty of time to make their way up the standings.

In theory, the Breakers would be right back in finals contention if they could somehow string together a few wins quickly, but that seems rather unlikely given that their next three contests will be against two out of the top four teams as well as the Brisbane Bullets who are tied with the Illawarra Hawks for fourth position itself.

Couple New Zealand’s upcoming fixtures with the team conceding their biggest loss of the season this past weekend by 21 points against the Bullets, many are left to wonder what avenues the eighth-seeded side has to pursue at this moment in time. To further compound the list of challenges the Breakers face, Robert Loe’s departure back to New Zealand for personal reasons and Corey Webster’s current injury has made the squad’s predicament a dire one to say the least.

For Shamir, he hopes to have his two latest pick-ups in Levi Randolph and William McDowell-White hit the hardwood in the next few weeks as New Zealand searches for answers with the end of the campaign quickly approaching.

28-year-old NBA G-League prospect, Randolph, most recently completed his fourth year with Ohio’s Canton Charge and will replace the released Lamar Patterson, who played just six games for the Breakers before injuring his knee last month and moving back to Brisbane to play for the Bullets. Next to him, will also be 22-year-old McDowell-White who is also on his way back from the U.S after finishing a G-League season of his own with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and being selected to Brian Goorjian’s 24-man Australian Boomers squad in the process. Additionally, Patterson’s temporary fill-in player Jeremy Kendle will also suit up for the team in future games with the roster currently without three full-rotation players.

Contributing in a positive and productive way this season, the Breakers have had a small batch of players that have been nothing short of essential leading up to today. Particularly, 25-year-old Tai Webster has made his comeback season in the NBL one to remember having scored double-digit totals in every game so far in 2021. Webster’s individual totals this season are a perfect embodiment of the guard’s ability to create his own chances with 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game along with a shooting average of 42 per cent.

Like so many of his other seasons, captain Thomas Abercrombie has been an integral member of this team’s rotation. Now in his third season at the club, Abercrombie has maintained an average of over 10 points per game with almost four rebounds per contest. But the 33-year-old has found the majority of his success on the defensive end, which was on full display against the Bullets in Round 10, as he and his teammates limited Nathan Sobey to just 12 points and Vic Law to a mere seven.

With Tai’s brother Corey to miss roughly a month or two with a knee injury, Finn Delany can be expected to have to put up higher numbers in what will be a hectic transition period while new players are forced to wait for their travel procedures to end. The Tall-Black is enjoying a season filled with unprecedented numbers, flirting with almost 14 points and seven rebounds per game – career highs in both categories. Furthermore, big-man Colton Iverson has been another key piece in the Breakers’ puzzle averaging 8.4 points and 7.4 rebounds, but the center has shown little discipline when it comes to limiting fouls on the opponent accumulating four fouls or more on five separate occasions.

If New Zealand are to have any chance of possibly stealing a win or two in their upcoming matchups with Melbourne, Perth, South East Melbourne or Brisbane, then the supporting cast will need to lift their heads and take some risks to become major producers. That leaves players like Rasmus Bach (5.3 points per game), Jarrad Weeks, Kyrin Galloway and Daniel Trist a chance to try and impress their head coach before the new reinforcements arrive.

It is going to be a long road ahead for the trans-Tasman team and with future home games looking a lot like a fairy-tale concept, the Breakers’ best chance at somewhat of a successful season is to continue NBL21 one game at a time, as Shamir continues to remain hopeful.

Hawks reaffirm notion as title contender, overcome United by eight

MELBOURNE United’s lead at the top of the NBL standings has become ever more precarious, after being handed their third-straight defeat during what has been a thoroughly disappointing NBL Cup stint. Their most recent downfall came at the hands of the title-contending Illawarra Hawks, who held United to a nine-point fourth quarter as they left John Cain arena with their heads held high, bewildering their opponents 77-69.

In the battle between first and third, the opening period provided no indicators of which team might start to tilt the balance in their favour, as Melbourne held a delicate 21-20 lead. However with Illawarra shooting over 50 per cent from the field, the Hawks were looking very impressive heading into the second.

Despite a slow start to the second period, United started to ramp up their intensity on the precipice of half time winning the quarter 22-16. That result widened the gap between themselves and the Hawks to seven points – the score being 43-36, as Chris Goulding led all-scorers after 20 minutes with 11 points.

The Hawks had been shooting well in the first two quarters, more efficiently than Melbourne surprisingly, knocking down 45 per cent of their attempts (two per cent higher than United) with Tyler Harvey leading the way on the back of eight points. Illawarra had, however, given the ball away profusely to this stage with nine turnovers next to their name, which in turn had led to 12 points for the hometown team compared to the Hawks two.

Illawarra got the one-point drop on United in the third, 18-17, thanks to the efforts made by their sharpshooter Justinian Jessup and big man Sam Froling who was big on the boards, but Cameron Bairstow was a surprise contributor with his production on the scoreboard.

If there is one thing in common about any one of Brian Goorjian’s teams, it is that they will fight for all four quarters and that is where the major moment of the contest occurred, as Illawarra kicked off the fourth with a nine-point run and took a five-point lead with just over six minutes left on the clock.

Mitch McCarron ended the scoring run, but from that point on Dean Vickerman’s side was playing catchup basketball through to the final buzzer as Jock Landale, Sam McDaniel and Mason Peatling would be the only other scorers for the rest of the fourth quarter.

Melbourne would not find their lead again after being held to just nine points in the fourth, whereas Illawarra amassed 21 of their own putting on a defensive masterclass and emerging victorious by eight points – a perfect example of the brand of basketball their head coach likes to play.

The Hawks’ shooting was not anything to wonder at given they would finish with a shooting rate of 42 per cent. But, scoring 14 points from the free throw line at a solid conversion rate of 82 per cent, Illawarra found this to be the best way to separate themselves from their opponents. On the other hand, Melbourne found the majority of their success in the paint scoring 38 of their points in the paint (six more than Illawarra).

Harvey was consistent and effective all night long during his 35 minutes of playing time scoring 23 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists with Bairstow shocking everyone for 15 points of his own. Jessup was good from behind the arch with three triples to his name and 13 points, while Deng Adel failed to score a point but was good for six rebounds.

Representing their second half failures and one of their lowest offensive showings, not one United player would crack 20 points individually. The next closest to this feat was McCarron, who assembled 16 points and four assists, then followed by Goulding (13 points) and Landale (12 points and eight rebounds) who had unremarkable nights in comparison to previous efforts.

Melbourne will leave their city for the first time in weeks as they prepare to face their rivals the Sydney Kings next Friday in New South Wales, with teams now looking to make a late charge for the postseason. The Hawks, however, will stay in Victoria for another week to prepare for a rematch with United seven days from today.


Picture credit: AAP

Hawks return to best after rampant third quarter

CROSS-STATE NBL rivals Illawarra Hawks and Sydney Kings did battle in an entertaining first half, but a dominant third quarter from the Hawks gave them a healthy 89-69 win showing glimpses of their early season form. Sydney was kept to their lowest season score in what was the one hundredth meeting between these two sides after scoring just eight third quarter points.

This was exactly the response coach Brian Goorjian was after following their abysmal performance against the Wildcats on Sunday. The Kings, however, were coming off a good win and were buoyed with the return of their import big man Jarell Martin.

It was that man that the Kings were running their offence through early as they fed it to the blocks with great success. His opponent in Sam Froling was up to it at the other end though, as he was on his way to a big night.

The key for the Hawks was Justinian Jessup who has clearly struggled recently. He was called for an offensive foul early on but responded in a positive way as he facilitated the offence instead of forcing up shots.

Six missed free throws from the Hawks cost them a quarter-time lead with proceedings matched at 24. Tyler Harvey was 2-6 from the line despite being 37-40 for the season.

There was a clear contrast in styles early as an Illawarra outfit with high intensity and good ball movement saw them find looks inside for 16 of their 24 points, while the Kings took nine shots both inside and outside.

The second quarter flagged Illawarra’s second-half dominance as they looked to have found their mojo from earlier in the season with Jessup and Harvey hitting shots, Deng Adel getting out in transition and dunking, and role players doing what was required.

Despite this, the Kings were within one point at half-time thanks to Tom Vodanovich’s spark off the bench and Didi Louzada’s effort on both ends.

Things started to unravel for Sydney from there though, as they were outscored 25-8 in the third quarter. A nice Harvey three on a set play on the first possession of the half should have provided ominous signs for Sydney, but fluent ball movement and disciplined, high-effort defence was the key behind the reduction in points. Comparatively, the Kings were static and lacklustre offensively as they shot 2-13 from the field and conceded five turnovers.

The final quarter still had the NBL Cup point on the line as the Kings were looking to take something out of the game, but it was mostly junk time as Illawarra gave some deep rotation players some minutes.

The Hawks won the final quarter and won the game 89-69 as they solidify third spot on the ladder.

Froling led all-comers in points with 20 on 9-10 shooting to go with six rebounds. He said he had a couple of games where he “hadn’t felt [him]self”.

“Came out tonight, was being aggressive and we were moving the ball a lot more so I got a few more looks and it happened from there,” he said.

Harvey continued to lead from the front with 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists and said that tonight was about “getting back to ourselves”.

“We’re going through the grind right now you know, it’s not easy so you got to have that growth mindset every single day,” he said. “We lost that for a bit, but coach has a way of finding things, knowing what to say and how to say it so hopefully we carry it on to Melbourne”.

Jessup managed to regain some form and score 15 points on the night, while Adel (nine points, four rebounds, three assists) and Cameron Bairstow (eight points, six rebounds, three assists) played valuable minutes off the bench.

Dejan Vasiljevic was the only Kings player to reach double digits with 12 points, while Martin was looking strong for six points before minutes restrictions saw him remain on the bench for the second half.

Jordan Hunter scored his first field goal late in the game after scoring in double digits for three of their last four games, while Casper Ware shot 2-10 for six points.

Illawarra shot 52 per cent from the field compared to Sydney’s 37 and recorded 10 more assists, indicative of the efficiency from Illawarra and Sydney’s lack thereof. Both teams shot a combined 16-35 from the free throw line however, as the Hungry Jacks cheeseburger code would have had to have been supplied numerous times on the night for consecutive missed free throws.

Both teams will play off on Saturday’s double header with tough matchups as the Kings take on the Bullets, and the Hawks play Melbourne United.

Jessup’s struggles continue as clinical Wildcats bounce back

THE Perth Wildcats closed out Round 8 of the NBL with a commanding 87-70 win over the Illawarra Hawks. It was second place against third coming into the game, but it was a clinical display from the Wildcats which made it look like a non-contest from the start with an 11-point quarter time deficit the smallest margin of any of the breaks.

A tougher matchup was expected due to the quality of the output from both sides this season, but the element of mystery was also a factor as it was the first time this season we had seen this matchup. Their last meeting was in Round 15 of last season which saw a 22-point win for Perth.

Both sides looked different then compared to now as the Hawks looked to improve on their 38-88 record against Perth with big performances from Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup, but it was only the former who would be a shining light for a rather dull Hawks outfit. Former Hawk Todd Blanchfield was also taking on his old side for the first time after spending two seasons at Illawarra.

From the very start of the game, it was Perth that brought a greater intensity at both ends, with smooth and well-communicated team defence not allowing this explosive Illawarra team to go on a run.

For much of the game, the Hawks had a much more difficult time finding open looks but when they did, the Wildcats would reply instantly, if not with a few more stops and baskets to go with it.

The Wildcats finished the timeout-free first quarter with a 9-2 run to give them a 28-17 lead at the first break on the back of seven individual scorers compared to Illawarra’s four.

Perth also shot the ball better and moved the ball better for nine assists to two, as they edged out to a lead that would only extend for the remainder of the game.

With the game far from over at that stage, Hawks coach Brian Goorjian pleaded for more effort from his team, and after a strong start with Deng Adel hitting from deep, and Harvey stepping through for three the old-fashioned way, the lead was cut back to five.

After a strong start to the game, veteran Jesse Wagstaff asserted his authority with a post-hook and a triple to settle things. A made Blanchfield three and then a foul on another attempt took the lead back out to 13 as proceedings looked as though they were unravelling for the Hawks.

Despite Jessup’s first make of the game (1-6 at that point), some smooth moves inside from John Mooney helped Perth to a 53-31 lead at the main break.

Perth continued to shoot, move, and take care of the ball better, but 18 bench points and three players in double digits for scoring were instrumental in the big lead as Harvey’s 12 first-half points were a lone effort in an abysmal scoring performance for Illawarra. 18 per cent from deep highlighted such struggles.

Despite a relatively even start to the second half, the Wildcats managed to stretch the lead out to a game-high 30 points.

Young gun Luke Travers checked into the game for the first time after several starts and made an immediate impact with his activity at both ends of the court.

Jarrod Bairstow and Tom Jervis were the only two Wildcats players with minutes to not score after three quarters of play which saw the scoreline at 46-74. Jervis almost fouled out of the game in record time after some deliberation saw him remain at four personal fouls in just three minutes on the court.

With the NBL Cup adding value to every quarter, the Hawks still had something to play for and managed to win the final quarter 24-13. An up and down quarter forced Perth to lose the structure they had played with all game in what broadcaster Shane Heal described as a game of “pick-up”.

The final score read 70-87 as Illawarra was kept to its lowest score of the season. Wagstaff said that what got them the win was “100 per cent defence”.

“They’ve got an extremely talented team, they shoot the ball exceptionally well, and I thought our guards did an exceptional job,” he said.

Wagstaff was pivotal off the bench with 14 points as stars Bryce Cotton (18 points) and Mooney (14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) continued to put up their typically good numbers. Blanchfield also enjoyed a solid outing against his former team with 16 points.

Harvey’s 17 points left him as the sole player to reach double digits in scoring for his side with Justin Simon’s and Isaac White’s nine points each the next best. Jessup finished with just five points as his challenge now is to find other ways to score and contribute now that teams have adjusted to his strengths and put extra focus onto him.

The Hawks will look to rebound in their next outing against Sydney, while Perth will want to carry this momentum and level of play into their matchup with the Breakers on Friday.

No Sykes, no problem as Phoenix hold firm around top of the table

A SUNDAY double-header to end round seven action kicked off with the South East Melbourne Phoenix meeting and beating the Illawarra Hawks for the second time this season, 93-76. Two of the three teams in the league that average more than 90 points per game were both coming off tough losses and were looking to bounce back to solidify their place around the top of the table.

With stringent and physical defence from the Phoenix handing the Hawks their first season loss in their first matchup, the key difference this time was the absence of star import Keifer Sykes who is carrying an ankle injury. He joined the already sidelined Adam Gibson and Dane Pineau, as well as the recently signed Ryan Broekhoff who is still in quarantine. Kyle Adnam stepped up in his absence as the Phoenix again restricted the Hawks to their lowest score the season and served them their biggest loss.

The Phoenix picked up where they left off from their last matchup and were intense on both ends of the floor from the outset. Adnam and Cam Gliddon led the charge early with tidy distribution and shot making being key areas that gave the Phoenix an early lead which they did not squander.

While their intensity was clearly superior early, South East Melbourne was also able to take the Hawks off the dribble and either straight to the rim to score or find passes inside to big men like Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore.

With Sykes’ injury forcing the Phoenix to make rotation changes, star of the New Zealand National Basketball League Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa was given extra minutes having played just four minutes this season. He made an immediate impact with his known defensive abilities, forcing an eight-second backcourt violation in his first possession on the court.

The offensive stalwarts for the Hawks in Justinian Jessup and Tyler Harvey struggled for much of the game, with air balls for each of them highlighting their struggles. The pair also struggled in their last matchup, as coach Simon Mitchell made a point of reminding his players to always know where they are and force them right.

The quarter-time score read 25-13 for the Phoenix as they shot the ball 19 per cent better and had six more assists, areas they would continue to dominate for the rest of the game.

Brian Goorjian pleaded for more physicality from his outfit, and despite a couple of easy baskets and poorly missed shots, an and-one from Andrew Ogilvy, and triples from Deng Deng, Deng Adel, and Harvey combined with some intensity on the defensive end saw them back within six points.

Losing the offensive fluidity they enjoyed to this point, the Phoenix sought to get to the free throw line to halt the Hawks’ momentum and did so to great effect. They had 17 attempts to Illawarra’s five.

The Hawks, however, continued to shoot well from deep and if it were not for some Mitch Creek magic down the stretch, the Hawks would not have been trailing 45-37 at the main break.

Although the margin was only eight points, South East Melbourne still felt in control and they proved it with a big 28-18 third quarter to give them an 18-point lead heading into the final quarter. An up and down start to the term would eventually be dominated through the Phoenix’s sharp ball movement, and offensive glass prowess headed by Moore.

The margin was extended to 20 points after an Adnam floater was followed by his tenth assist on the night.

The final quarter comeback would have needed to have been the biggest of the season, but it was not to be as the rest of the game ebbed and flowed. Two Cameron Bairstow triples gave the Hawks life, but the Phoenix pushed through and kept the Hawks to their lowest score of the season again winning 93-76.

The Phoenix enjoyed another huge NBL Cup outing from Creek who had 25 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 58 per cent shooting. Gliddon put up 19 points, to go with five rebounds and three assists, while Adnam fell just short of a double-double with nine points, 11 assists, and four steals. Moore also enjoyed one of his best games this season with 22 points and five rebounds off the bench, which included 12 of 12 from the free throw line.

South East Melbourne has 23 more free throw attempts in the game and managed to force Illawarra into 16 turnovers. This disciplined defenced managed to hold the Hawks’ key players in Jessup (seven points) and Harvey (14 points) quieter than usual. Justin Simon (13 points, six rebounds) was the only other Illawarra player to score more than 10 points.

The Phoenix will look to carry this momentum into their Wednesday matchup with Perth, while the Hawks will look to bounce back on Thursday against the 36ers.

NBL21 – Round 6 preview: NBL Cup tips off in blockbuster weekend

AN eight-game round across four days tips off in a blockbuster National Basketball League (NBL) weekend starting tomorrow. Across Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, double-headers will be played at John Cain Arena in Melbourne, allowing fans to make the most of their trip to the basketball. We take a look at each of the clashes below.

Saturday, February 20 @ 3pm

Tipping off the huge weekend of action is Cairns Taipans going head-to-head against Illawarra Hawks in what should be a fascinating contest. The Hawks bounced back from consecutive losses to defeat Sydney Kings and remain on track for a finals spot under new coach Brian Goorjian. Illawarra sits second on the table with five wins from seven games, while the Taipans have conversely struggled this season after entering 2021 with much optimism after last year’s finals showing. Having played seven games at home and only winning two of them is not crash hot, while the Hawks lost their only game to Melbourne United, but have a 5-1 away record having been well versed at travelling thus far.

The Hawks’ back court has worked really well this season with a trio of imports, Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and Justin Simon making life difficult for the opposition. Harvey (21.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists) and Jessup (14.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists) have started every match, while Simon (9.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.0 blocks) has been a third playmaker, starting in five of the seven games. For the Taipans, it means a lot falls on the shoulders of Scott Machado (17.0 points, 9.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds) to match it with them, while Cameron Oliver (17.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks) is a man on a mission this year once again as the premier big man heading into this contest.

The Hawks will be favourites given their depth, though the Taipans have shown in glimpses they still have what it takes to pick off a big scalp.

Saturday, February 20 @ 5.30pm

In the second game tomorrow, rivals Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats go head-to-head in what is always a fascinating battle. United are yet to lose this season, winning six on the trot and now facing an extended stint at home with the NBL Cup at John Cain Arena. They take on the team that got the better of them two years ago and always provide a challenge in the Wildcats, who have had their worst start to a season in some time, winning two of five games to start the season and languish in seventh spot. Luckily, a trip away could see them reinvigorate themselves and with the tightness of the ladder, quickly put themselves back in contention for a three-peat.

The question mark over the Wildcats is what it was in the preseason – support to help Bryce Cotton – and that is what Perth will need to get the job done. Cotton was the best player in the NBL last year, and has arguably been for a number of seasons now, but with so many of his teammates departing, he needed to find some scoring options to take the pressure off him. Import John Mooney has been a terrific addition at the five, with 16.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, while Todd Blanchfield has come across to be another contributor with 13 points, 3.6 rebounds and two assists per game. Unfortunately the reigning premiers have struggled elsewhere, while United have depth up every sleeve. Big man Jock Landale (15.2 points. 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 blocks) has had the impact he was expected to this season, while Chris Goulding (16.8 points, 3.0 rebounds) has controlled the back court. Most impressively though, United has eight players with nine points or more per game, using the rotation options to perfection.

United are yet to loses in season 2021, and it is hard to see it happening here. In saying that, if there is a game the Wildcats are likely to get up for, it is this one.

Sunday, February 21 @ 3pm

Two teams that have been up and down this season in the mid-table logjam are South East Melbourne Phoenix and Brisbane Bullets. The pair face off in the earlier game on Sunday, with the Phoenix playing their fourth home game having started the season with a 2-1 record in Victoria. They will be favourites up against a Brisbane team that has been shaky despite six home games, finishing with two wins from those matches, though the Bullets won their most recent clash on the road against the Adelaide 36ers to give them confidence here.

With news that the Phoenix have lured NBA talent Ryan Broekhoff back from the United States, it transforms the league’s newest side from being a solid mid-table team into a genuine contender, if not favourite alongside Melbourne United. The Phoenix already had a couple of prolific scorers up both ends of the court in guard Keifer Sykes (18.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.1 steals), as well as forward Mitch Creek putting in a typical performance of 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals. Add in Broekhoff who is the most deadly of three-point shooters (averaging 40 per cent from long-range in the world’s best league albeit from limited minutes), and the Phoenix have so many deadly shooters. The Bullets have their own homegrown volume shooter in Nathan Sobey (24.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals), while import Victor Law has been a welcome addition with the departure of Lamar Patterson, stepping up with 20.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 blocks this season.

The Phoenix will be strong favourites, especially if Broekhoff takes the court, while the Bullets will be hoping to build on their last win, with an all-round team performance.

Sunday, February 21 @ 5.30pm

In the final match of the regular weekend, Sydney Kings and Adelaide 36ers face-off in their first of two games for Round 6. The 36ers have had a remarkably good season, with five wins from nine games, but will be ruing their loss to the Bullets at home last start. After a quick trip away to Brisbane they toppled the Bullets, then fell themselves at home in a shock loss. They sit pretty in third on the table, but have played more games than any other side, so will be wanting to quickly rack up some more wins early in the season. For the Kings, they are at 3-4, and still trying to find their feet, having lost at home against Illawarra last start, and sit fifth with a very winnable chance against the 36ers on Sunday evening.

The Kings have certainly found a standout import in Jarrell Martin (18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds) to take the load off known volume shooter Casper Ware (20.0 points, 3.3 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals). Ware has been more prolific than his first season with the Kings, but it has been the back court duo of Ware and Dejan Vasiljevic (17.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists) which has really kept the Kings in the mix for a top four spot early in the season. They come up against a 36ers side that has come on in leaps and bounds since being smashed by Melbourne United on opening night. They could certainly still improve their consistency, but the duo of Isaac Humphries (17.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks) and Daniel Johnson (21.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists) has been sensational and is one area where they will have the advantage and look to really control the airways close to the basket.

Adelaide 36ers will be favourites, but the Kings have enough strength in their back court to be a worry for the third placed team, both will be keen to start the NBL Cup off well.

Monday, February 22 @ 5pm

The first team to play two games this round will be Illawarra Hawks, triggering another six teams to double-up over the weekend. For the New Zealand Breakers, they could have the weekend resting up for their sole Round 6 game, and will have had plenty of time to plan for the Hawks in this one. The Breakers are 1-4 from the season and desperate to grab a second win, yet to play at home, and not looking likely on the horizon for some time. Despite the challenges, they have the talent on their list, the Breakers just need to keep battling away.

Tai Webster has been the standout performer for the Breakers, putting up team highs in points (19.6), rebounds (7.2) and assists (5.0) to be a crucial inclusion in the back court. His brother Corey (13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals) has been pretty solid himself coming off the bench, while Finn Delany (14.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks) continues to come of age. The big question mark remains with last year’s MVP contender, Lamar Patterson who languishes with just an average performance of 10.4 points. 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The American imports for the Hawks in Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and Justin Simon have been terrific, while Sam Froling (11.1 points, 7,6 rebounds) and Cameron Bairstow (11.0 points, 7.8 rebounds) have been the size the team needs near the basket, and allowing their smaller teammates to go to work.

Illawarra will be favourites in the clash, but a trip away in the one place for an extended time could be what the Breakers need to kick-start their season.

Monday, February 22 @ 7.30pm

Getting stuck straight into the analysis, these two teams are coming off early games on the weekend and will be keen to put on a Monday night show. United will be favourites thanks to an unbeaten run, while the Taipans will be keen to turn their early season form around during the NBL Cup. If they can start firing here, it will give them confidence going forward. The must-watch matchup is clearly Jock Landale up against Cameron Oliver in a huge battle of the big men, and despite Scott Machado’s elite passing and some good solid scoring options across the court for the Taipans in Kouat Noi, Majok Deng and Mirko Djeric, they do not have the same depth as United, who outside Chris Goulding and Jack White (10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks), the ladder leaders still have the likes of former Breakers, Scotty Hopson and Shea Ili, and back court scorers, Mitch McCarron and Yudai Baba putting up strong scores.

United will remain favourites regardless of the earlier results on the weekend, but the Taipans have the talent to give it a shake.

Tuesday, February 23 @ 5pm

A 2019/20 NBL Grand Final rematch between the Kings and Wildcats will tip-off Tuesday night’s action with both teams in very different circumstances to 12 months ago. The Kings sit fifth just outside the top four, winning three of seven games, while the Wildcats are seventh hoping to turn their form around. The Kings trio of Jarrell Martin, Casper Ware and Dejan Vasiljevic provide the majority of the points for last year’s runners-up, though Brad Newley (10.9 points. 5.3 rebounds) comes off the bench to have an impact. They will need some big efforts from the depth however, because that will be the key in this match. As already mentioned, Bryce Cotton is an immense talent, and John Mooney has been great support with Todd Blanchfield a good third shooter. It will be up to the likes of Luke Travers and Mitch Norton as the other starts to really put some heat on the opposition early, and provide other options.

It is hard to pick a winner in this one, Sydney seem to be travelling better, but the Wildcats destroyed the Phoenix two starts ago, so anything could happen in this game.

Tuesday, February 23 @ 7.30pm

The final match of the round will be the third meeting between Adelaide 36ers and South Melbourne Phoenix. In a twist of irony, the 36ers are playing at “home” at the Phoenix’s home court, for a blockbuster 7.30pm match. The return of Ryan Broekhoff will mean the 36ers will have their work cut out for them, with fellow Boomer Josh Giddey getting another taste of what some of his more experienced teammates can do. The future NBA talent has been doing well at NBL level, with a strong 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Along with Tony Crocker (10.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals), the pair will look to provide support to the damaging duo in Isaac Humphries and Daniel Johnson. The Phoenix trio of Broekhoff, Mitch Creek and Keifer Sykes will be a delight to watch, but even the likes of Ben Moore (9.3 points, 8.5 rebounds) and Kyle Adnam (13.8 points) coming off the bench will mean the “visiting” team will have plenty of depth.

The Phoenix will be favourites for the clash, as they look to continue to move up the ladder, and they are only a couple of wins away from being outright second if results fall their way in Round 6.