By Asa Schuster, Pagemasters
The Melbourne Tigers have leapt into fourth-place following a hard-fought 77-70 victory over the Wollongong Hawks at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday.
The Tigers survived a spirited final-quarter stand from the Hawks on the backs of Jonny Flynn and Lucas Walker down the stretch, setting the stage for a heated playoff race between the two sides.
Flynn finished with 23 points and eight assists, Chris Goulding added 18 points, Seth Scott 13 points and nine boards, while Walker came up with seven of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.
''We're becoming a better basketball team, they made runs at us, but I felt like we were more in control of the game,'' Tigers coach Chris Anstey said.
''We're playing better basketball and we're content with how we've gone, but we're certainly not happy and we have to get better.
''We are in the four, but our weekend is only half done and one of the things our group hasn't done yet this year is win two on the road on a weekend.''
Adris Deleon scored ten of his 18 points during a frantic final term, while Oscar Forman had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Hawks, who slip to fifth on the ladder following their fifth straight home loss.
''The guys' effort levels were great, we had a crack, the guys that came off the bench gave us some good stuff,'' Hawks coach Gordie McLeod said.
''To get some results we're really going to have to grind it out like we did defensively there, and we've just got to find a way where we can loosen up our offence a bit.''
Goulding pumped in 10 points during a red-hot opening quarter by the Tigers, who hoisted up five more attempts than the Hawks to build a 26-16 advantage.
Dave Gruber showed a crafty throwback hook shot as part of Wollongong's 11-4 start to the second term as the Hawks pulled within three-points.
However, a timely triple from Goulding steadied the ship, before Flynn connected on a pair of clutch jumpers to beat the shot-clock and pace Melbourne at 42-35 at the half.
Malcolm Grant and Flynn featured early in the third, the Tigers' point guard answered Grant's two early baskets with a slick crossover and floater, followed by a terrific feed to Tommy Greer inside.
Flynn continued to roll as he tried desperately to keep his side in front, somehow connecting on a spinning circus attempt in the paint, before Grant closed the quarter with a strong drive to the hoop with the Hawks trailing 49-55.
Wollongong claimed the first four points of the fourth to make it a two-point contest, and they eventually locked the scores at 61-61 after finding consecutive threes by Forman and Deleon.
Walker quickly gave the advantage back to the Tigers from the free-throw line, before Flynn paved their run to the finish line with a long-range dagger.
Melbourne Tigers 77 (Flynn 23, Goulding 18, Scott 13)
Wollongong Hawks 70 (Deleon 18, Forman 17, Davidson 10)
Crowd: 3061 at WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong