Sam Froling scored 26 points in the overtime loss (Photo: @illawarrahawks / X)

Illawarra Hawks coach Justin Tatum believes the officiating in the final quarter of last night’s semi-final series opener was biased.   

Leading by as many as 16 points in the final quarter, Melbourne United would overcome the deficit, ultimately winning in overtime 115-106. 

Tatum questioned the plays the referees decided to review late in the game. In particular, the no-call on the tussle between Gary Clark and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr with 17 seconds remaining. If called a foul, Clark would have had the chance to put Illawarra up by four, but Chris Goulding would instead level the scores with four seconds to go. 

“100 per cent,” Tatum said when asked if the officiating in the final quarter favoured Melbourne United.

“I don’t know what they’re reviewing when JLA and Gary get mixed up on a long, inbound pass and you see a whole arm wrapped around him (Gary Clark).

“Then also we’re trying to get the ball in bounds and J-Rob (Justin Robinson) gets grabbed in the corner by Dellavedova. It’s the playoffs and I thought we had the best officiating crew, that’s what we were supposed to have been told, but it is what it is.” 

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It was not all negatives for the Hawks. Despite having less recovery between matches, Illawarra asserted their authority from the outset, playing their desired style of basketball.  

“It [our system] was working, it wasn’t broke, I think it’s just playing an up-tempo type of basketball and being able to execute half court and find our guys who are hot,” Tatum said.

“We always want to push the tempo when we can and get easy shots in transition, but we go to our bread and butter when we go half court.”

Sam Froling was one of those guys who was hot last night, scoring 26 points on 11/16 shooting. In tandem with Clark, the Next Star caused headaches for Melbourne United’s big men, in particular All-NBL Second Team centre, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Froling believes he is part of the same echelon as his opponent. 

“I’m not afraid of anyone, whoever it is I’m going at them,” he said.

“I’m not worried about where my shots are coming from – whatever happens to win the game is what needs to happen.”

Illawarra will look to force a series decider when they host Melbourne on Sunday afternoon. 

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