Illawarra Hawks' inspired NBL fightback to beat Brisbane Bullets

Key man: Illawarra Hawks import Demitrius Conger considers his options during Sunday's win over Brisbane at WIN Entertainment Centre. Picture: Robert Peet
Key man: Illawarra Hawks import Demitrius Conger considers his options during Sunday's win over Brisbane at WIN Entertainment Centre. Picture: Robert Peet

It was the melee that sparked the Illawarra Hawks’ season.

Struggling at 0-3 for the season and down by six points, Illawarra needed inspiration.

It arrived swiftly when big man Nick Kay was brought crashing down by Brisbane Bullets skipper Adam Gibson.  The two teams came together soon after the hard foul as Demitrius Conger and Bullets centre Tom Jervis squared off.

A series of fouls were handed out, but it was the Hawks who emerged from the stink in better shape as they went on an 11-1 run after the bust-up to put themselves in the box seat to secure their first win of the season.

They’d eventually prevail 105-96 at WIN Entertainment Centre on Sunday evening.

“There was inconsistency but I thought we showed so much heart, determination and passion,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said.

“That’s what we are after and now that we have re-identified who we are as a group, and can now start winning more games.”

Imports Rotnei Clarke and Conger both shined in the gutsy win.  Clarke scored a game-high 26 points while Conger contributed at crucial moments as he compiled 21 points and six rebounds.

Boomers representative Kay was as his dynamic best with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Perrin Buford was awesome in the first half for the Bullets and had 26 points, with Daniel Kickert (21 points) and Stephen Holt (17 points) also on song. Kay set the tone early for the Hawks before Holt got hot for the Bullets.

The American guard inspired a 17-2 run and was flawless from the field as the visitors kicked away to a 32-17 quarter time advantage.

Some choice words in the huddle from Beveridge saw Illawarra come out of the blocks strong in the second period. Clarke earned his way to the charity stripe to cut the margin to seven points. Conger proved unstoppable in the second quarter as the American import traded free throws and jump shots to keep Illawarra within touching distance.

They got within a point of the Bullets before Adam Gibson and Holt both drained threes in the final minute of the half to take Brisbane’s lead to 55-45 at the main break. Tensions reached boiling point when Kay copped a hard foul from Gibson. 

Officials reviewed the footage and handed out five fouls with Hawks big man Delvon Johnson as well as Tom Jervis, Daniel Kickert and Gibson were all given unsportsmanlike fouls.

Jervis squared off with Conger in the aftermath, but the latter escaped sanction. 

The melee brought the Hawks’ faithful into the game as Illawarra grappled their way to the lead for the first time since the fifth minute of the game, Clarke inspiring them and they went to the final change 84-71 ahead.

This story first appeared in the Illawarra Mercury.