Hopes for a top four finish are quickly evaporating for the Wollongong Hawks.
Wollongong dropped to 6-11 with Thursday night’s narrow 106-101 loss to three-time reigning champions New Zealand in Auckland and face the difficult prospect of winning at least seven of their final 11 games to pinch a finals berth.
Trailing by 12 in the second quarter, the Hawks tenaciously fought back in the second half, taking a three-point lead in the fourth period.
But the Breakers did just enough down the stretch to deny Wollongong their seventh win.
The Hawks had three players score at least 20 points for the first time in a long time.
Kevin Tiggs had 24, Dave Gruber finished with 21 and Rotnei Clarke had 20.
Kerron Johnson led the Breakers with 21, while Tom Abercrombie and Gary Wilkinson had 20 apiece.
Both teams made 56 per cent of their shots, while Wollongong won the rebound count 27-26.
The Hawks fly back to Sydney today and host Melbourne on Sunday night.
Oscar Forman had the hot hand early for Wollongong, scoring eight of his team’s first 16 points.
Gruber was also causing problems with his strong inside moves, helping the Hawks to a 16-12 lead after five minutes.
Breakers guard Corey Webster hit a couple of shots to keep his side close, while Tiggs became the central figure in the Hawks’ offence with 10 points off the bench.
New Zealand forged ahead 30-26 at quarter-time, with Webster, Johnson and Abercrombie combining for 20 points.
The margin was five before Tiggs took over again to tie the game at 32-all.
The Breakers had no answers for the 29-year-old American and his points tally climbed to 16 early in the second period.
But New Zealand were paced by a more balanced attack, as Abercrombie and Wilkinson found their rhythm to push the lead out to 44-37 with five minutes remaining in the half.
Abercrombie electrified the home crowd with a spectacular alley-oop dunk and followed with a three to stretch the margin to 12.
Just when the Breakers were on the verge of pulling away, Rhys Martin nailed a three-pointer and followed with a jump-shot to trim the Breakers’ lead to 55-49 at half-time.
New Zealand connected on a blistering 62 per cent of their shots, including 6/10 threes.
Wollongong hit a very tidy 51 per cent of their shots, but just 2/8 threes.
Tiggs was the standout with 18 points (7/8 field goals) and Martin had 10, while Abercrombie (15) and Johnson (10) stood out for the Breakers.
Foul trouble for the Hawks’ frontcourt players prompted coach Gordie McLeod to call on rarely-used rookies Shane Harris-Tunks and Luke Jamieson.
The Hawks fell behind by 10 before responding with eight unanswered points.
Clarke came to life after a quiet first half and Tiggs continued to be superb, while Gruber was doing damage inside.
When Clarke hit a jump shot with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter, the Hawks had their first lead since the first period.
The Breakers hit back with a barrage of long bombs before Larry Davidson’s three from the corner cut New Zealand’s lead to 81-78 at three-quarter time.
The Hawks kept fighting, tying the score at 90-all on Clarke’s free throws with five minutes remaining and taking a 95-92 lead.
But the Breakers held on for their seventh win.