The Illawarra Hawks celebrated Oscar Forman’s 500th NBL game on the right note with an absorbing 106-102 victory In one of the game’s of the season at WIN Entertainment Centre on Thursday night.
Forman, who missed the chance to bring up the milestone last weekend, played a valuable cameo with 11 points as Hawks gun Demitrius Conger took control on his home floor.
Conger led all scorers with 24 points while Rotnei Clarke (16 points, nine rebounds), Nick Kay (14 points), Cody Ellis and Kevin White (both 13 points) made valuable contributions. Cairns big-man Alex Loughton (22 points) and import Scoochie Smith (21 points) carried the load for the visitors down the stretch while Cam Gliddon scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half.
The win boosts Illawarra’s record to 7-9 on the season and moves them right back into contention for a playoff spot.
Playing without starting centre AJ Ogilvy (hip), they shot an astounding 71 per cent in the first quarter, including hitting 7/9 three pointers.
Cairns weren't far behind in an enthralling opening period where both sides refused to miss and the lead changed hands an incredible 25 times .
When Forman hit a trademark three midway through the quarter, Illawarra had stolen a slender 21-20 advantage.
He had another on the buzzer to help the hosts to a four point lead at the first change.
The seesawing contest continued into the second as Clarke injected himself into the game with a couple from downtown.
Gliddon was similarly effective for the Taipans.
The skipper proved unstoppable as he finished with a game-high 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals at the half.
Illawarra went into the change rooms leading 56-52 on the back of a clutch late step-back three from Conger.
He also had 17 points at the main break.
Nick Kay profited from an incisive pass from White to get the scoreboard ticking again in the second half.
Illawarra threatened to run away with the match when White made two of three from the charity stripe to give them a nine point buffer.
Mitch McCarron made a driving lay up to cut the margin to four points with four minutes remaining in the term.
When American import Smith nailed a corner three at the buzzer, the Taipans had wrestled their way back in front by one.
A pretty look from Cody Ellis saw White drain a three to complete a favourable 8-0 run for the Hawks.
Smith’s hot hand ensured the match would go down to the wire as just two points separated the two teams less than a minute to go.
The hosts would rise to the occasion down the stretch.
Rhys Martin hit a dagger three with the shot clocking winding down to break Cairns’ hearts and sealing consecutive victories for the Hawks.
Illawarra play on New Years Eve against the Brisbane Bullets.
This story first appeared in the Illawarra Mercury.