Hawks belt Phoenix to continue good signs under Tatum

Justin Tatum is mounting a case to remain Illawarra's coach next NBL season after the Hawks belted South East Melbourne Phoenix 100-72 in Traralgon.

Hawks guard Tyler Harvey had his best half of the season on Saturday night, before big men Gary Clark and Sam Froling combined to help blow out the scoreline in the third quarter.

Illawarra have now won three of four games since firing Jacob Jackomas and installing his assistant Tatum as interim head coach last month.

Justin Tatum
Justin Tatum has impressed since taking over as interim coach of NBL team the Illawarra Hawks.

They won only two of their first nine games to begin the season, and before the victory over the Phoenix had not beaten a team by 20 points since April 2022.

"I'm just a different voice," Tatum said.

"At the end of the day I've been preaching the same things that we had been at the beginning of the season. Our guys just have really bought in."

Harvey believed Tatum had been a good fit for the Hawks, who are yet to announce their coach for the 2024/25 season.

"JT's just putting us in positions to thrive," Harvey said.

"He gives us the blueprint and we just have to execute."

The Phoenix, meanwhile, have lost their two round 11 games by a combined 56 points.

"Obviously there's some stuff that we've got to really work on and some looking in the mirror that we've really got to do in order to try to turn this thing around," said centre Alan Williams.

The latest defeat poses serious questions about their ability to score without injured forward Mitch Creek, who could miss as many as three more games with a knee injury.

"We miss him a lot, because he's just great energy and a big part of this team," said coach Mike Kelly.

Williams, the Phoenix's other elite scorer, had 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Hawks, but when he went to the bench in the third quarter Illawarra began to streak ahead.

Froling (16 points) and Clark (12 points, 13 rebounds) helped mastermind a 12-0 run that pushed the lead out to 17 points as the final minute of the third period approached.

When Justin Robinson hit a two-point jump shot and three-pointer in quick succession just after the final change, the lead was 22 and the Hawks were closing in on a win.

Earlier, Hawks guard Harvey (25 points, five rebounds) had his best half in recent memory.

He shot four of five attempts from deep to amass 22 first-half points - more than he had scored for an entire game this season - and help erase Illawarra's five-point quarter-time deficit.

Harvey had to sit down midway through the second quarter in foul trouble, and cooled off later as Phoenix import Gary Browne minimised his influence.

Former NBA star Abdel Nader played his first game since signing on as a replacement import for the Phoenix this week and had nine points in 16-and-a-half minutes off the bench.

"He's going to be a really good basketball player for us," Kelly said.

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