The Illawarra Hawks pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in the club’s history in a thrilling 97-93 overtime victory against the shell-shocked Sydney Kings at WIN Entertainment Centre.
Illawarra were down by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter before outscoring their arch rivals 24-8 in the fourth to force an extra period.
With the game on the line, the Hawks held their nerve in overtime to snatch their fourth successive victory and boost their record to 5-5 on the season. Star import Rotnei Clarke proved instrumental down the stretch.
The American sharpshooter had just four points through three quarters, but shook off his shooting struggles to guide Illawarra to a remarkable four point win.
Clarke finished with a team-high 19 points while AJ Ogilvy (19 points, nine rebounds), Demitrius Conger (16 points) and Rhys Martin (13 points) all played crucial roles.
Kay had a comparatively quiet night by his standards with just two rebounds and two points for the game, landing just one of his seven field shots.
Former Adelaide star Jerome Randle was outstanding in his return to the league, tallying 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists to lead the Kings, who were led early on by Perry Ellis (21 points).
The result sees Sydney sink to a league-worst 2-8 record.
Things had started ominously for the visitors.
As boos echoed around the WEC, Randle wasted little introducing himself back to the NBL with a deep two inside the opening three minutes.
The former 36ers guard would finish with five points in the quarter as Ellis took charge for the Kings early in the match.
Ellis inspired a 9-2 run midway through the period to propel Sydney to an 11-point advantage at the first break.
Hawks back-up centre Delvon Johnson brought great energy off the bench to start the second quarter, but the Kings maintained control.
Their lead was back to double digits again when Ellis made two more from the charity stripe to make it 33-22.
Ellis finished the half with a game-high 13 points and nine rebounds to put the Kings in the box seat at 46-31.
He showed no sign of cooling down in the second stanza, draining another treble in the opening 60 seconds.
Every time the Hawks tried to get close, the Kings flexed their muscles again.
Randle’s hot hand late in the third saw his new side coast to a 72-56 advantage at the final break.
Just when the match looked all over, Illawarra started the fourth in devastating fashion to spark the crowd into action.
Clarke, Tim Coenraad and Ogilvy came up with clutch plays to steal momentum for the Hawks and they never looked back.
They drew level when Clarke drained one of two from the line, but neither team could take the ascendancy from that point on.
Both sides had the chance to win it from the free throw line late, but stuttered under pressure, forcing the match to overtime.
Clarke hit nine points in the added period, seven of which came from the charity stripe, to guide the Hawks to an unlikely victory.
Illawarra back up from the match in 48 hours time with a testing away trip to Cairns to meet the Taipans.
It remains to be seen if Cody Ellis will play in the contest. The forward failed to suit up against the Kings after the club reported he suffered an ankle injury at training.
This story first appeared in the Illawarra Mercury.