Illawarra Hawks have celebrated coach Brian Goorjian’s 750-game milestone with a 77-69 comeback win over Melbourne United in the NBL Cup.
The Hawks outscored Melbourne 21-9 in the final quarter of Saturday’s clash at John Cain Arena to gift the six-time NBL Coach of the Year the 523rd victory of his illustrious career.
Tyler Harvey stepped up to score five of his game-high 23 points in the final two minutes of the contest after Illawarra saw their lead shrink to one, while Cam Bairstow sealed the victory with a late dunk on his way to a 15-point night.
Goorjian’s 750th game came exactly 12 years to the day since winning the last of his six league championships in the same venue as coach of the South Dragons.
But the master tactician admitted that the emotions he felt after the game focused more around the achievements of his young squad as they recorded their ninth win of the season.
“It’s funny how I’m feeling right now, it feels like everything is brand new and I’m experiencing everything for the first time,” Goorjian said after the Hawks closed the NBL Cup with wins in three of their last four starts.
“I thought it was D-Day for our group – just the challenge of what we’ve been through for this length of time and playing a team like Melbourne tonight … on their court after they’ve lost two (in a row), rested and ready.”
Melbourne looked set for victory when they led 57-47 but their offence imploded as they dropped their third game on the trot, along with the opportunity to claim second spot on the NBL Cup table and $100,000 prize money.
“I thought we were on the same page most of the time … and then there was a period when we started to miss shots,” coach Dean Vickerman said after United posted just 26 points in the second half.
“When that’s happening, you’ve got to find other ways to tick the scoreboard over.”
United cashed in on seven Illawarra turnovers in the first quarter to grab a narrow 21-20 lead with seven players hitting the scoresheet.
Chris Goulding started heating up in the second quarter with eight quick points but Harvey and Justinian Jessup countered from long range to see the Hawks briefly retake the lead.
Mitch McCarron steered United to a 43-38 advantage at halftime and things looked rosy when Jock Landale dunked to put his side ahead by 10 midway through the third period.
Bairstow scored twice to close the third quarter and the Hawks added the first nine points of the final term to take control of the game, with United taking over four minutes to break their fourth-quarter drought.