Bumper Crowd Witnesses Nail Biter at Spark Arena
The Illawarra Hawks have started Justin Tatum's interim coaching tenure with a gritty 69-65 NBL win over the injury-hit BNZ Breakers in Auckland.
The Hawks sacked Jacob Jackomas on Tuesday following a 2-7 start to the season that was often thwarted by lapses in intensity and hot-and-cold performances by their import trio.
Those issues were far from remedied on Sunday, but the side did just enough at the death to come out the better in a scrappy encounter.
Co-captain Sam Froling (16 points, 12 rebounds) was important in giving the Hawks a size advantage over the smaller Breakers, whose import guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (20 points, six assists) was the best in a beaten side.
Another Breakers import, Anthony Lamb (20 points, seven rebounds), hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 65 heading into the final minute and force a Hawks timeout.
After the resumption, Hawks forward Gary Clark scooped up the ball whenr Tyler Harvey missed his jump shot and dunked for a two-point lead.
Uncharacteristically wayward for much of the night, Lamb missed a three-pointer that could have put the Breakers in front in the final 19 seconds.
Instead, Clark sealed Illawarra's third win of the season when he hit two free throws in the final seven seconds.
Heading into the FIBA break, the win draws Illawarra level with the Breakers at the bottom of the table on three wins and seven losses.
Jackson-Cartwright was courageous in the face of early foul trouble, continuing to attack the game through the paint.
Without injured guard Will McDowell-White, he masterminded a 9-2 run to begin the second quarter that hoisted the Breakers back into the game.
His influence was later quelled, with bench guard Biwali Bayles in particular doing a great job guarding him on the perimeter.
Each side was able to frustrate the other into poor shot selection with their zone defence, with the Hawks' accuracy (43 per cent) only slightly better than New Zealand's (32 per cent) from the field.
Lamb's struggles early did the Breakers no favours.
He could manage only one of his eight first attempts from deep and finished with 33 per cent accuracy from the field.
At the death, the Hawks made the New Zealanders pay.
Tatum hinted during the week that Next Star AJ Johnson would become a bigger factor for the Hawks later in the season
But other than a two-handed dunk on Dane Pineau in the first quarter, the 18-year-old had limited impact on the contest, only afforded eight minutes.
HUNGRY JACKS NBL ROUND 8
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 65 (Jackson-Cartwright 20, Lamb 20, Gliddon 10)
ILLAWARA HAWKS 69 (Froling 16, Harvey 16, Clark 13)