Hawkins buzzer-beater sparks Fire to win

AN incredible buzzer-beater from Tianna Hawkins helped seal the Townsville Fire’s one-point victory over Sydney Flames in a thrilling WNBL contest at Townsville Entertainment Centre last night. The Fire rose to the top of the WNBL ladder with the victory, avoiding a shock upset in the process.

In a memorable match in the penultimate round of the regular season, the Fire went in as strong favourites, but were jumped by the Flames early, with the visitors leading by six points at quarter time. Though the home team hit back to trim the deficit by one point, it was not until the third term that Townsville really chewed into the margin. By the final break, the Fire trailed by just one points.

The fourth term was filled with momentum swings, with the Flames taking an early lead to look like they had recovered and would go on with it, but soon the Fire took over again. Leading by three points with 2:24 on the clock thanks to former Flames star Shyla Heal‘s hookshot, it was anyone’s game, but Townsville nervously watched as Tiana Mangakahia made the layup.

Though she would miss a number of shots – as would plays on both sides, it was her defensive rebound off a missed Steph Reid layup that would lead to a basket. She not only won the ball in the final seven seconds, but passed it off to the open Keely Froling who sank the jump shot to go one point ahead with three seconds left. Naturally Townsville called the timeout, and off the assist from Courtney Woods, Hawkins launched a shot just in time, beating the buzzer as it sailed home and handed the Fire the lead, and the win, 73-72.

Townsville’s two-point shooting of 61 per cent was far higher than the Flames’ 47 per cent, though Sydney’s ability to drain eight of 24 from the three-point line kept the game alive, with the Fire struggling from long-range. Overall the home side finished with a plus-six differential in rebounds (38-32) and 12 more points in the paint (44-32), though the Flames won the assist count (16-13) and had six less turnovers (10-16).

Hawkins would finish with 20 points, eight rebounds and two assists in the win, teaming up well on the scoring front with Karlie Samuelson (22 points – nine of 13 from the field – and four rebounds). Mikaela Ruef collected a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, as well as five assists and two steals.

For the Flames, Froling played all 40 minutes and tallied up 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Mangakahia (14 points, seven assists, four steals and three rebounds) did a bit of everything. Joceyln Willoughby (12 points, nine rebounds and two assists) came close to a double-double herself, while Kiera Rowe (nine points, six assists) also spent every second on court.

Townsville Fire finish off their year with visits to Bendigo Spirit and Southside Flyers, while Sydney Flames tackle Melbourne Boomers in the final match of the regular season.

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