WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - The Australian Indigenous Basketball (AIB) All Stars national team battled valiantly, but in the end the Illawarra Hawks had too much strike power, securing an 110-87 victory in the Pre-Season NBL Indigenous Challenge held at the Snakepit on Saturday night.
The sold-out crowd were treated to a highly entertaining game, the All Stars jumping out of the blocks to lead 20-16 midway through the first quarter, before the Hawks ended the period on a 20-7 run.
The Hawks took the momentum into the second quarter and behind the play of 645-game NBA veteran Aaron Brooks (12 points) and Australian Boomers squad member Todd Blanchfield (14 points), held a commanding 62-45 halftime lead.
It wasn’t all easy going for the hosts in the second half though. After being down as much as 25, the All Stars rallied in the fourth quarter and on the back of some big plays by Davo Hickey and Chris Cedar, the margin was cut to 11 with 6-minutes on the clock.
A 3-point play by Hawks veteran Timmy Coenraad put an end to the All Stars upset hopes and Illawarra pushed the lead back to 14. Another late run made it a 23-point gap at the final siren.
The All Stars were led by Hickey’s game-high 25 points, while Chris Cedar also added 14 of his own. In his retirement match, veteran Tyson Demos closed out his on-court career with 13 points and 3 rebounds.
In his much-anticipated Australian debut, NBA prospect LaMelo Ball chipped in with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 17 minutes of action.
Despite the loss, AIB All Stars head coach Joel Khalu took away a number of positives.
“Our guys played with outstanding passion and never stopped competing, which makes me really proud,” Khalu said.
“For our first time playing an NBL team and a very high-quality side at that, I thought our guys gave it a really good crack and seized the opportunity.”
“Even though we were undersized, we certainly showed that we have the ability and the talent to play at this level, so hopefully more NBL clubs will reach out to AIB about pre-season games in the future.”
Illawarra Hawks mentor Matt Flinn also embraced the event, labelling it a huge success.
“I’m really proud of what both clubs were able to achieve tonight,” Flinn said.
“To be the first NBL team to play the AIB team is something really special and to their credit they did the jersey proud, as we expected they would.”
“It was a full house in here tonight and everybody saw a really entertaining game.”
“Watch this space, hopefully it can become an annual event in the future.”
Illawarra Hawks 110 (Todd Blanchfield 14, Aaron Brooks 12, LaMelo Ball 12) defeated the Australian Indigenous Basketball All Stars 87 (Davo Hickey 25, Chris Cedar 14, Tyson Demos 13)