Dench, Wollongong Win Australian NBL Grand Final Opener

April 23, 2001

WOLLONGONG, Australia - For the first time in the NBL playoffs Robert Rose, the man they call "Mr Clutch", didn't deliver in the crunch.

With 4.7 seconds left on the game clock Rose received the ball and fired a last-gasp three-pointer which zeroed in on the basket, and for a second, it looked the Townsville Crocodiles would be sending game one of the Grand Final series against the Wollongong Hawks into overtime. But for once Rose failed to find the target, leaving the Hawks now just one win away from claiming their first NBL championship in 23 seasons with the series heading to Townsville for game two on Saturday.

The Hawks' come-from-behind 104-101 victory at the Sandpit in Wollongong in the best-of-three series opener Sunday continues their inspiring, against-all-odds drive to become the first NSW team in the league's 23-year history to win the crown.

Former Gonzaga University product Axel Dench, who last week was named the NBL Rookie of the Year, scored 13 points and grabbed one rebound while playing 21 minutes for the victors.

With the Port Kembla steel works as the back drop and the fanatical sell-out crowd of 5,837 as intense as any blast furnace, the Hawks got down and dirty early, jumping out to a 28-19 first-quarter lead.

Townsville, sparked by Andrew Goodwin's 21-point first-half performance, turned the game around in the second quarter with Rose's three-point bomb on the buzzer sending the Crocs into the main break with a 55-46 lead.

However, the Hawks never panicked and with Melvin Thomas' team-high 24 points and Matt Campbell's 19 leading the way they came out in the second half with tremendous purpose, outscoring the Crocs 58-46 in the final two periods.

"We've done it tough all year," said Hawks coach Brendan Joyce. "Obviously the shot made by Rose would have hurt a lot of teams but as I said to the guys - 'okay we're nine down but we've been in this position before'.

"We've had to do things the tough way all season so why should it change for the playoffs.

"We had to dig a little deeper and focus on our execution. That's what we did and we quickly gobbled up that lead."

In the final minutes of a tense edge-of-your-seats fourth quarter the Hawks survived not only Rose's three-point prayer but a desperation long bomb from veteran forward Pat Reidy only 11 seconds earlier.

But all through the final four minutes the Hawks kept coming up with the big plays to stay in front.

A three-pointer from Hawks swingman Glen Saville and Melvin Thomas' two pressure free throws gave the home team a 99-95 lead with 69 seconds left.

Rose's three-point play next trip down the court, registering his 26th point for the game, got the Crocs within a point before Saville pushed the lead back to four only to see Townsville's David Hinton nail a three with 15.8 seconds left to close the gap to 102-101.

Wollongong guard Charles Thomas was fouled on the next play, sending him to the free throw line with the game in the balance.

Thomas made both but Reidy and Rose missed in reply and the Hawks were a step closer to the title.



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