Classy import Adris Deleon led the Wollongong Hawks to a 74-66 win over the Melbourne Tigers at The Cage on Sunday.
After only three points in the first half, Deleon (18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) nailed a number of sweet drives and pull-ups as he compiled 11 points in the fourth quarter .
Import guard Jonny Flynn (19 points, 8 assists) led the Tigers but they again suffered self-inflicted wounds in a game they could have won.
With the Hawks now embedded in the top two, coach Gordie McLeod was happy to "grind out such a tough win".
“We struggled to get into any flow, but the guys hung in there and we were able to come up with the big plays at the right time," he said.
“We want to train like we play and we didn’t do that. We took some short cuts, but you’ve got to be happy holding them to 66 (points).”
Proving that old can be gold, veteran Hawks forward Glen Saville (15 points, seven rebounds) went on a tear in the second period, hitting three three-pointers to have 13 at the half in a 39-36 Hawks lead.
With the Hawks leading 21-20 after the first period, a pair of Saville threes book-ended two triples by Tigers reserve swingman Bennie Lewis.
Like Saville, the Hawks grabbed the initiative and built an eight-point lead with their patient offence and defence designed to keep the ball out of Flynn’s hands.
That strategy worked to a certain extent, holding Flynn to six points in the first half, but he had six assists and made a crucial play with the clock running down to the interval.
Tigers forwards Liam Rush (seven points) and Seth Scott (10 points, six rebounds) twice tied the game early in the third before Flynn made his mark.
The former NBA guard put the Tigers ahead with a three and followed with two more late baskets as Melbourne squeezed out a 53-51 lead at the end of three periods.
As Deleon and fellow import Lance Hurdle kept the Hawks ticking over the unlikely figure of Lucas Walker (11 points, 10 rebounds) kept the Tigers in touch early in the fourth.
But Rhys Martin’s three-pointer pulled the Hawks level and Deleon’s running floater put them ahead with 4min 19sec left.
Deleon then followed up with a pair of free throws and a big three in his game-winning fourth quarter that proved too much for the home side.
“It was a really disappointing last five minutes of the game,” Tigers coach Chris Anstey said.
“We had a lot of opportunities to put the game away and the fact is we couldn’t get it done. There are no more excuses. We just have to execute down the stretch. We had the top team in the league by the nuts and we didn’t squeeze.
“We’ve got to take a pretty long, hard look at ourselves. We’re sick of handing games to teams. We need to wrestle them to the floor. We’ve got to draw a line in the sand and take a stand.”
Wollongong Hawks 74 (Deleon 18, Saville 15, Davidson 12)
Melbourne Tigers 66 (Flynn 19, Walker 11, Scott 10)
Crowd: 2774 at State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne