They held on for 17 rounds but the Wollongong Hawks have dropped out of the top four for the first time this season.
Taking on the Melbourne Tigers tonight at WIN Entertainment Centre, the Hawks crashed to their 10th loss in their past 12 games, going down 77-70 and slipping to fifth spot.
Melbourne boosted their record to 9-10 to move into fourth, while Wollongong are 9-12 with seven games remaining.
The Tigers led at every change, answering every challenge by the home team, particularly when the game grew tight in the closing minutes.
Wollongong were let down by poor rebounding at crucial stages of the fourth quarter and were unable to contain Melbourne backcourt general Jonny Flynn (23, eight assists, two steals).
Guard Chris Goulding (18 points, four rebounds, two steals) was a standout and burly American centre Seth Scott (13 points, nine rebounds) was also instrumental in the Tigers' victory.
Guard Adris Deleon led the Hawks with 18 points, forward Oscar Forman tallied 17 and Larry Davidson finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Wollongong won the rebound battle (37-34) for once but it was to no avail.
After taking an early 5-2 lead, the Hawks were out-scored 14-5 over the next five minutes.
Goulding had his shooting eye in, knocking down a pair of threes, while Ballinger hit two jump-shots.
The signs were ominous for Wollongong under the boards, as the Tigers helped themselves to five offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone.
Melbourne stretched the lead to 20-10 after a time-out before Wollongong hit back with two unanswered baskets.
The Tigers re-asserted themselves at both ends of the floor and closed the period with a 26-16 lead.
Goulding had 10 points, while Davidson led Wollongong with two points, four assists and three rebounds.
The Hawks raised the defensive intensity in the second quarter, pulling to within three points before Tigers centre Seth Scott scored inside to put the visitors up 32-27 midway through the period.
Demos splashed a three and Davidson hit one of two free throws, but Goulding drained another three and Melbourne's lead was 37-31 with just over two minutes left in the half.
Flynn grabbed the baton from Goulding and casually connected on a pair of long bombs before Deleon's driving layup on the buzzer trimmed the deficit to seven at half-time.
Goulding and Flynn combined for 24 of the Tigers' 42 points, while Forman had a team-high nine points for the Hawks and Deleon and Demos added a collective 14.
Wollongong did a better job under the boards in the second quarter and were locked with the Tigers at 16 rebounds apiece at half-time.
The Hawks kept fighting in the second half, but every time they made a run, the Tigers would respond and keep them at bay.
Wollongong finally came all the way back when Deleon nailed a three to tie the score at 61-all five minutes into the final quarter.
Lucas Walker's free throws broke the deadlock, while Flynn rose to the occasion, hitting a long three to give his side a 66-61 lead they never relinquished.
The Hawks face a tough double next week, taking on New Zealand on the road before hosting Townsville on Sunday.