A red hot Justinian Jessup has provided the sizzle for the surging Illawarra Hawks as they climbed into third place on the NBL ladder with a 87-70 home victory over struggling Brisbane.
With fellow sharpshooter Tyler Harvey sidelined because of a knee twinge, Jessup stepped up, bagging a NBL career-best 29 points in Thursday night’s match in Wollongong.
The victory propelled the Hawks over Perth into third spot and was their ninth win from their last 11 fixtures.
“We’re finding a little groove. I think we’re starting to figure out what it takes for us to win, so we’ve just got to keep on doing those things,” Jessup told ESPN after shooting 64 per cent from the field.
With coach Brian Goorjian back in charge after missing last Sunday’s win over Melbourne United because of a positive COVID test, the Hawks had few problems with a Bullets side now out of finals contention and missing injured star Nathan Sobey.
Illawarra took control early on with 14 unanswered points and Jessup was their chief weapon, scoring 12 in the first five minutes and 20 by halftime.
“My teammates found me and then I got rhythm going early in transition,” Jessup said.
“I got some easy ones and that’s all it takes.”
Illawarra jumped to a 19-point lead in the third quarter and their advantage never dropped below double digits.
However they scored just 34 in the second half and never threatened to fully bury the Bullets, who failed to make a significant run.
In-form Hawks guard Antonius Cleveland continued his recent fine form with 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes was another good contributor with 14 points, six rebounds and five dimes.
Brisbane shot just 16 per cent from three-point range, making only four of 25 long bombs and their starters provided just 29 points.
Star imports Robert Franks and Lamar Patterson scored 13 and 10 respectively, but both shot under 30 per cent from the field, though Franks contributed 12 boards and five assists.
Veteran guard Jason Cadee was another Bullets starter to struggle, landing just one from seven.
The Bullets outscored Illawarra 41-15 off the bench and got energy and scoring from Next Star Tom Digbeu, who scored 13, while Tamuri Wigness added 11.