Tensions threatened to boil over in the aftermath of the Illawarra Hawks’ emphatic 91-65 victory over the Tasmania JackJumpers with coach Scott Roth involved in a near-altercation with Hawks import Antonius Cleveland.
The Hawks overcame a fast start from the JackJumpers to dominate Saturday’s clash at Launceston’s Silverdome with their lock-down defence setting up a pivotal 32-15 edge in the second quarter as they recorded their first win over the league’s newest franchise.
But there was a late twist after the final buzzer when Roth appeared to take exception to Cleveland’s post-match celebrations and pursued the American forward before being held back by players and officials.
A contender for NBL coach of the year after steering the league newcomers to an unlikely top-four challenge, Roth chose not to elaborate on the incident in his post-match press conference but stated he had settled the matter with Hawks coach Brian Goorjian.
“I don’t really have any other comments other than this team is here to represent the entire state and we don’t back down from anybody. We will continue to play and we just move on,” Roth said.
Goorjian defended the actions of Cleveland, the versatile swingman starring in the Hawks’ victory with 22 points and seven rebounds, along with his JackJumpers counterpart.
“I’ve known Scott Roth for a long period of time and right now he’s the best coach in this. He’s got the most out of his team,” Goorjian said after the match.
“There’s respect there, it’s just a little bit of to-and-fro … a handshake when things settled down and we go about our business.”
With consecutive wins over semi-final aspirants South East Melbourne and Tasmania, Goorjian praised the way his squad have handled criticism after an inconsistent start to the season.
“I’ve said all along through the bad play, through the problems, we’ve been a team and they’ve worked hard on the day-to-day – that culture we built last year is growing and it’s there,” Goorjian said following Illawarra’s seventh win in their past nine games.
“With pressure against us, like it was last year, all of these games, we are playing games that matter and the character and culture of our organisation is starting to grow.”
Clint Steindl’s long-range accuracy inspired the JackJumpers to an 11-point advantage early in the second quarter but the Hawks lifted their intensity at the defensive end and rode the hot hands of Justinian Jessup and Tim Coenraad to a 49-41 halftime buffer.
The Hawks did not let up after the main break as they restricted Tasmania to 12 points in the third quarter on the way to handing the JackJumpers the biggest loss of their inaugural season.