Wollongong continues dream run with win over Tigers
Wollongong's Rhys Martin takes on Nate Tomlinson. Photo: Getty Images
Wollongong has strengthened its status as the surprise packets of the NBL season with a runaway win over the Melbourne Tigers.
Second-bottom last season, the Hawks (7-1) climbed to top spot with their 74-66 win over the struggling Tigers in Melbourne on Sunday.
Trailing by two points at the last change, Wollongong surged home, inspired by import Adris Deleon (18 points, five assists).
The former Gold Coast Blaze guard scored seven of the Hawks' last nine points as they outscored the Tigers 9-2 in the last two minutes of playing time.
Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze said Deleon was a major contributor to the Hawks' dramatic improvement this season, with he and fellow import Lance Hurdle the main additions to a squad that won just nine of 28 games last season.
"It's just amazing this Wollongong team," Gaze told the Ten Network.
"I defy anyone that would have suggested after this stage of the season that they'd be 7-1.
"That's just something that you wouldn't have thought on the back of what we saw last season.
"That just goes to show the impact of two quality players, Adris Deleon in particular."
Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod said the performance was far from perfect but the spirit was strong.
"We've got a lot of hard work to do but I was pleased to play the way we did and still get away with the win," McLeod said.
The second-bottom Tigers slumped to 2-6.
Wollongong's win ensured it ended the weekend ahead of New Zealand, champions of the past two seasons, who started the round on top.
The Breakers (7-2) were thrashed 89-64 in Perth on Thursday night to fall to second place.
Forward Shawn Redhage returned to form with 20 points for the Wildcats.
Redhage also played a crucial late hand as the Wildcats won 68-63 in Townsville two days later.
The bottom-placed Crocodiles were within three points and in possession with seconds to play before a Redhage intercept denied them a chance to level the game and he iced it from the foul line.
Perth (5-3) are third while Townsville remain winless on the bottom.
Fifth-placed Sydney (6-4) are pushing hard for a top-four berth after beating Cairns 83-76 in overtime on Friday night.
Skipper Ben Madgen, enjoying a break-out season to be comfortably the league's leading scorer, hit 29 points including some decisive baskets in overtime.