Tamworth’s Nick Kay scored 27 points as the Illawarra Hawks ended their season on a high note with an emotion-charged 94-84 win over ladder leaders Melbourne United on Sunday.
With captain Kevin White suiting up less than 24 hours after his father David passed away, the undermanned Hawks produced one of their best performances of the season to knock off the NBL title favourites.
Star guard Rotnei Clarke and AJ Ogilvy remained on the sidelines, but Boomers representative Kay stepped up to fill the void, tallying 27 points and 7 rebounds.
MVP hopeful Demitrius Conger scored 20 points while Tim Coenraad (24 points) led the charge for Illawarra in the first half. Tai Wesley and Josh Boone both had a team-high 14 points for the hosts, but they could do little to stop a rampaging Hawks side playing their final match of the season.
“That was an amazing way to finish the season,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said.
“Personally it has been the hardest season I have ever had.
“The way we stuck together as a group has been absolutely fantastic.
“The adversity that these guys have gone through has been unbelievable.”
Coenraad was on fire in the first quarter, hitting five threes to equal his season-high for points inside the opening 10 minutes.
He drained his fifth late in the term to lift Illawarra to a 26-23 lead at the first change.
A crowd-pleasing alley-opp dunk from Conger kickstarted the second quarter before Chris Goulding (13 points), who left the game late on with an ankle injury, answered from way downtown shortly after to help United wrestle back the lead.
A hustle play by Kay under the basket tied things up at 51-all at the main break.
Illawarra’s hot shooting showed no sign of slowing down in the second half as Oscar Forman (eight points) got into the action from beyond the arc.
The Hawks held a slender two-point advantage at three quarter time.
Kay inspired a 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter and set up a winning buffer.
His only three of the match put nine points ahead with four minutes remaining before Conger finished the job with back-to-back baskets.