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‘They carried us’: Bench provides spark for Hawks’ win over Phoenix

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6th March, 2022
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The energy of Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Antonius Cleveland sparked a striking Illawarra comeback, as the Hawks regained an NBL top-four spot with a  83-77 road win over South East Melbourne Phoenix.

Earlier on Sunday, Sydney beat Cairns to go fourth, but that lasted just a couple of hours, as the Hawks produced what coach Brian Goorjian agreed was their best performance of an inconsistent campaign. 

Down by ten points, Illawarra enjoyed a decisive 16-0 run either side of three-quarter time to take control of the game against second-placed Phoenix at John Cain Arena.

Illawarra enjoyed a 33-10 advantage in bench scoring, with Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell ruefully acknowledging the electric Rathan-Mayes (19 in 23 minutes) “comfortably” outscored his own second unit.

“They (the bench) carried us, they got us back into the game and they were hugely significant in the win,” Goorjian said.

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Brian Goorjian

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

With the Hawks often criticised defence lifting in the latter stages of the third quarter, it generated more open court opportunities for the visitors with Cleveland (16 points) the primary beneficiary.

“That bench coming in and getting stops and AC getting out on the run gave us easy baskets, took the pressure off,” Goorjian said. 

“That basket got a little bit bigger in the fourth quarter because we got some easy ones with AC running, playing off our defence.”

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Scores were level at quarter and halftime, though Phoenix led by as much as eight in the second quarter.

Illawarra won despite star guard Tyler Harvey going none from eight from the field and scoring his only point in the final minute from the free-throw line.

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Fellow import Justinian Jessup struggled in the first half, making just one out of six field goal attempts, but finished with 15 points.

Four players scored 13 or more for Phoenix, with Mitch Creek and Ryan Broekhoff leading the way with 18 and 15 respectively. Phoenix made just eight of 35 three-point shots.

“There was probably an over abundance of three-point attempts, we need to be a team that strikes a little better balance than what we had tonight,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was frustrated his team again failed to extend their best winning streak this season beyond three.

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“We kind of get stuck, we get to three wins and then its almost like we schedule a loss in and that was the challenge for us today,” Mitchell said.

© AAP

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