Wollongong's playoff hopes are hanging by a thread after Sunday night’s 86-78 loss to a depleted Melbourne Tigers at WIN Entertainment Centre.
The Hawks led by a point after three quarters but once again were unable to finish the job, falling to 6-12 with 10 games remaining.
Melbourne completed a perfect 2-0 weekend, backing up Friday’s shock road win over league-leading Perth with Sunday’s workmanlike performance to remain in third spot with a 12-8 record.
That they were without key players Lucas Walker and Mustapha Farrakhan only highlighted how hard the visitors toiled for their victory.
Wollongong had their chances to regain control in the final period but the Tigers made the right plays in crunch time, sealing their fourth win from as many meetings with the Hawks.
Wollongong are away to Townsville this Friday in a battle of the league’s bottom-ranked teams.
Leading the charge for the Tigers on Sunday night was NBL leading scorer Chris Goulding, who finished with a game-high 31 points.
Melbourne also received a tremendous captain’s knock from Tommy Greer.
Not known for his shooting, Greer notched 21 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
Oscar Forman led the Hawks with 21 ( 7/10), Kevin Tiggs had 16, while Rotnei Clarke finished with 13.
Tigers guard Nate Tomlinson hounded the mercurial Clarke all night, restricting the American sharpshooter to a poor shooting night (5/14 field goals).
The Hawks were out-rebounded 32-23 and made 47 per cent of their shots to Melbourne’s 51 per cent.
Tim Coenraad’s three on the game’s opening possession provided the Hawks with a positive start, while Rhys Martin and Clarke scored on lay-ups for an early 7-3 lead.
Goulding quickly found his range to get the Tigers on the front foot and Dave Gruber gave the home side a strong inside presence by muscling his way in for a couple of baskets.
Scores were tied at 13-all after five minutes before the Tigers forged ahead by three.
Wollongong replied with back to back threes by Forman for a 25-22 quarter-time lead.
Clarke and Forman had six points each, while Goulding led the Tigers with 10.
The Hawks were cooking at the offensive end, making 69 per cent of their shots.
The margin swelled to eight early in the second period, but Goulding stayed hot and Greer was an unlikely offensive source, as Wollongong held a 34-33 lead with minutes remaining in the half.
Melbourne seized the momentum after a time-out, out-scoring the home side 9-3 over a two-minute stretch.
They continued to hold sway over the closing stages of the half and took a well-deserved 47-40 lead into the locker room.
Goulding was up to 19 points, but Greer was the story for the visitors, scoring all of his 14 points in the second quarter and also grabbing seven rebounds.
The pair was a virtual two-man wrecking crew in the second period, pouring in 23 of the Tigers’ 25 points.
Forman led the Hawks with 12 points on 4/4 threes, Clarke had eight and Kevin Tiggs was typically productive with nine in 12 minutes off the bench.
Despite hitting 59 per cent of their field goals to Melbourne’s 56 per cent, Wollongong were out-rebounded 17-10 and out-scored 15-5 on second-chance points.
The Tigers opened the second half with a basket before Clarke and Forman drained successive threes to cut the deficit to three.
Spurred on by a small but vocal crowd, Wollongong kept rallying, regaining the lead 58-56 on Larry Davidson’s free throws.
Melbourne hit back with five straight points, but Gruber nailed two foul shots and Rhys Martin made a lay-up after a steal to put the Hawks up 62-61 with a quarter to play.
Hard as they tried, the Hawks weren’t good enough to prevail.