A disturbing third-quarter scoring drought cost the Wollongong Hawks dearly in Saturday night's round 22 road meeting with the Townsville Crocodiles.
Leading 32-30 at half-time, the Hawks took almost five minutes to add to their tally in the second half and eventually lost 69-64.
Townsville peeled off 11 points during Wollongong's cold spell, taking a lead they held.
Wollongong trailed by as many as 12 in the final period and gamely fought back to be down by a single point with 17 seconds remaining.
But the Crocs came up with two key defensive stops and secured their ninth win of the season with four straight free throws.
"We had a poor third quarter," Hawks coach Gordie McLeod said.
"We didn't score on our first nine possessions. It wasn't like we were sloppy. We had good looks but we just couldn't put the ball in the hole.
"Even though we picked it up and made a run and made a game of it down the stretch, we didn't play consistently well for four quarters and didn't have enough guys up going where we needed them to be."
Former Hawks import Gary Ervin was the best player, scoring 24 points and delivering on a promise to spark the Crocs.
Centre Luke Nevill had 13 points and Todd Blanchfield added 10.
Wollongong guard Adris Deleon had a team-high 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Malcolm Grant chalked up 11 points.
Forward Dave Gruber had 10 points and Larry Davidson finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
Both teams failed from the three-point line. The Hawks connected on 8/30, the Crocs just 3/22.
The Hawks lost the rebound battle 35-34 and had 16 turnovers to the Crocs' 11.
Wollongong were also out-scored 38-22 on points in the paint, mostly on simple drives to the basket by Ervin.
"We weren't able to lock them down defensively and we allowed way too many easy baskets," McLeod said.
"They scored 19 points in the paint in the third quarter and it came from lay-ups from Gary and penetration and dunks to Nevill. We gave them too much possession in the end.
"We struggled at the offensive end of the floor. At times we were too stagnant and looked unorganised.
"We didn't get different people involved in the game enough. Ossie [captain Oscar Forman] got into foul trouble and we struggled to get him shots.
"You have to give Townsville some credit. They disrupted and changed a few things. They made us get into our offence in different ways and we struggled with that, so we have to make some improvements in a lot of areas."
The Hawks have an 11-15 record with home games against Sydney and Adelaide remaining.
Two wins will guarantee them a spot in the playoffs.
The Crocs (9-16) have to at least win their final three games.