Hawks go fourth in NBL with victory over Bullets

Chris Pike |

A standout defensive job led by Wani Swaka Lo Buluk helped the Hawks beat the Brisbane  Bullets.
A standout defensive job led by Wani Swaka Lo Buluk helped the Hawks beat the Brisbane Bullets.

It was a game waiting for one team to take charge and the Illawarra Hawks did exactly that in the fourth quarter on the way to a crucial 89-76 win over the Brisbane Bullets to move to fourth in the NBL standings.

With fourth position, at least for now, the prize for the winner, the stakes were high at WIN Entertainment Centre and neither team could ever quite break free until the Hawks scored 23 of the game’s final 29 points.

The excitement did build briefly in the second quarter when Next Stars and future NBA draftees AJ Johnson and Rocco Zikarsky traded thunderous slams. 

That included Illawarra’s Johnson’s being right over Brisbane seven-footer Zikarsky.

Outside of that it was a grind of a contest for much of the evening.

The Hawks led 22-18 at quarter-time, before things opened up in the second period with a combined 54 points for Illawarra to lead 50-44 at the break.

Brisbane took charge in the third period, holding the Hawks to just 12 points to lead by four going into the fourth.

Illawarra turned the tide again to control the final period, including going on a 12-2 run that saw them turn a four-point deficit into a six-point lead.

The Hawks kept the Bullets to six points in the final eight minutes for the eventual 13-point win, including scoring the last 11 points.

Victory took the Hawks (12-12) up to fourth spot in the standings, and it was a standout defensive job led by Wani Swaka Lo Buluk on Bullets captain Nathan Sobey that was key.

Sobey had just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting with four turnovers.

Gary Clark again came up big for Illawarra with 19 points and 10 rebounds, with import guard Justin Robinson continuing to enjoy coming off the bench with 16 points and five assists.

Sam Froling added 12 points and seven rebounds, and Tyler Harvey 10 points, three steals and three rebounds.

Hawks coach Justin Tatum liked the fighting spirit shown by his team.

Hawks coach Justin Tatum
Hawks coach Justin Tatum enjoyed the fighting spirit his players showed against Brisbane. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

“It was good because we ended up winning the game and I saw my guys like Sam, GC and Tyler find a way,” he said.

“I trust them guys, and what they did was fight through adversity, and that’s one thing we’ve been doing all season.

“As we keep improving with that, we come out with wins like this.”

It was a tough loss for the now 12-14 Bullets, whose final two matches are at home against Adelaide and away to New Zealand.

Brisbane shot just 38 per cent from the field with 4-of-22 from deep, with Josh Bannan and Sam McDaniel joining Sobey on 11 points. 

Tyrell Harrison also had 10 points and eight rebounds.

After the match, Bullets coach Justin Schueller could not hide his frustration.

“It’s frustrating because we put ourselves in a position to go and get it,” he said.

“But it’s just frustrating that we let that part slip, starting with not executing an assignment to let Clark get that three, and that was the ball game.”