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Martin, Clarke keep Hawks alive

By Chris Pike
28 February 2014 10:32PM EST

HE MIGHT be small but Rotnei Clarke is quickly becoming the NBL's dagger man as he again fired down the stretch to guide Wollongong to a fifth straight victory on Friday night.

The Hawks prevailed over the second-placed Adelaide 36ers 91-89 at the WIN Entertainment Centre as Wollongong continued its remarkable charge from the bottom of the NBL ladder to a potential finals appearance.

With Clarke hitting huge dagger threes down the stretch and fellow guard Rhys Martin pacing the Hawks throughout the night, they were able to withstand their own former league MVP Gary Ervin's fourth quarter heroics to hold on for the two-point victory.

The win is Wollongong's fifth straight since it was lamenting on the bottom of the table with a 6-13 record following a dismal run of four straight losses to Cairns, New Zealand, Melbourne and Townsville.

However, the Hawks caught fire in this stretch of four home games in five matches to beat the 36ers twice while also recording impressive wins over Townsville, Sydney and New Zealand.

Not only has Wollongong been winning, but it has been by an average winning margin of 15.4 points a game so the Hawks are playing the best basketball of any team in the NBL right including the league-leading Perth Wildcats.

However, coming from sitting at 6-13 it means that the Hawks are still looking in at the top-four from the outside and will need to keep winning over their last four matches against Cairns, Townsville, Sydney and Perth.

But with two of those matches against the Taipans and Crocs who are out of the playoff hunt, and then one against the fourth-placed Kings then Wollongong's fate of playing finals or not in the 2013/14 season is very much in its own hands.

Adelaide, meanwhile, is still looking safe in second position despite the loss on Friday with a 15-9 record and three-game lead over the third-placed Tigers.

Clarke and Martin both helped Wollongong to a strong finish to the first quarter and a 24-19 lead, but an Adam Gibson jumper just over three minutes into the second period had Adelaide leading 33-31.

Things remained tight for the rest of the half but a three-point play to Martin and then two points to Oscar Forman saw Wollongong again lead 46-41 at half-time.

The Hawks' lead then got out to 10 points for the first time early in the second half thanks to Clarke, and even stretched to as much as 12 when Martin buried a three-pointer.

However, Adelaide isn’t a genuine championship threat for nothing so were never going to go away, but Wollongong was still in control leading 71-59 at the of three quarters.

The Hawks' lead was then 15 when Martin nailed another triple to start the fourth quarter, but slowly Adelaide worked back into the contest and when Gibson nailed a bomb with six minutes to go, scores were all tied up at 74-apiece.

Back-to-back scores to Martin put Wollongong back out to a four-point advantage, but a triple from Ervin quickly closed that and then a Daniel Johnson basket put the Sixers on top with three minutes left.

Clarke then put Wollongong back in front, but Ervin was now on fire and nailed another three as Adelaide led 82-80 with a minute and 45 seconds on the clock.

It was Rotnei Clarke time, though, and he answered with a three of his own to put Wollongong back in front and then he nailed another to make the margin five points, and the Hawks held on for the two-point win.

While Clarke came up huge down the stretch, it was Martin who was the star of the night for the Hawks finishing with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals on the back of shooting 13-of-20 from the field and 3-of-6 from three-point territory.

Clarke also finished with 21 points and four assists on the back of 5-of-10 from downtown.

Tim Coenraad added 13 points and six rebounds also for Wollongong while hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc with Larry Davidson contributing 10 points and eight rebounds inside.

Ervin, who won the NBL MVP with Wollongong for the 2010/11 season, did all he could for the 36ers finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals while shooting 3-of-6 from three-point range.

Big man Johnson contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds also for Adelaide while captain Gibson finished with 14 points, Rhys Carter 10 and Anthony Petrie 10 to go with eight rebounds.

Round 20 of the NBL began on Thursday night with New Zealand beating Townsville to remain in the playoff hunt and will now continue with two matches on Saturday night with Melbourne hosting Townsville at Hisense Arena, and Cairns facing New Zealand in Cairns.

Then on Sunday afternoon, the fourth-placed Sydney Kings battle the league-leading Perth Wildcats at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.

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