Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod was convinced the Hawks didn't "throw it away" in yet another narrow loss yesterday at WIN Entertainment Centre.
The Hawks' roller-coaster season dipped again with the 79-77 defeat against Cairns, leaving them sixth heading into this week's double against New Zealand (Thursday, away) and Melbourne (Sunday, home).
Despite playing a magnificent opening two quarters to lead 49-33 at half-time, Wollongong were a different team in the second half.
They connected on 19/33 shots in the first half but cooled off with just 11/29 after the main break.
"It's not about throwing it away," McLeod said.
"It's about how you execute and what you do, and in the third quarter our offensive execution and decision making was very poor, and you're going to pay in this league if you do that.
"We tended to stagnate and the ball stopped moving. That gave them the opportunity to run us a bit more and open things up.
"Every game we've played against this team is always a tight contest, and they're going to be at you right to the end.
"They made the big plays down the stretch. We made some big plays to be there as well, but in the end they made the one that counted.
"It's not about a game slipping away."
Up 22-19 at quarter-time, Wollongong dominated the second period.
The Taipans raised the defensive intensity in the third quarter, restricting the home team to just 10 points.
Three-point shooting is usually one of the Hawks' strengths, but yesterday they were a dismal 4/21.
"We didn't shoot the ball well from the three-point line. That's a good part of our game and we were down on that," McLeod said.
"We were pretty good in the first half at getting some heat on the rim and getting our points in the paint. That's how we established the lead, but we need to have that balance of inside-outside scoring."
The game's final minute featured five lead changes.
Wollongong's Kevin Tiggs scored to tie the game with four seconds remaining before Demetri McCamey hit a game-winning shot on the full-time siren.
Tiggs finished with a game-high 27 points, while Hawks guard Rotnei Clarke had 15 but made just 5/15 shots.
McCamey (20), Stephen Weigh (18) and Jamar Wilson (16) starred for Cairns.