The Hawks slumped to another defeat in Napier tonight with the clock ticking ominously on their playoff chances as the top four teams consolidate their berths.
The IMS Payroll-sponsored side lost 88-73 at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale,
to the Zerofees Southland Sharks who powered to their seventh straight victory on the trot.
The visitors only gave up the lead eight times in a tit-for-tat first quarter but never relinquished it in the remaining three quarters.
The Paul Henare-coached Sharks maintained a double-figure lead to claim three out of the four spells, just losing the third quarter, 20-19, in a don't-argue performance.
Aussie import Todd Blanchfield scored a game-high 24 points while playmaker Kevin Braswell added 22 and nine assists for the Sharks who joined the eight-win club with Nelson Giants, Waitakere Rangers and Welllington Saints in the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL).
At times the Liam Flynn-coached Hawks pegged a cluster of points back but Southland just toyed with them, upping the tempo to kill the hosts' spirit especially when the game became a lot more physical in the second half.
Nigerian import power forward Suleiman Braimoh again spearheaded the Hawks' stats with 20 points and five rebounds while co-skipper Jarrod Kenny added 13.
The other host contributions had a bargain-basement, supermarket receipt-like look about them for the Hawks who are now 4-7 going into Monday's 3pm tip off against the Breakers Manawatu Jets (3-9) at the PG Arena.
The frisky Sharks have claimed three consecutive scalps on the highway but face a sterner test on Monday against the Wellington Saints at TSB Bank Arena.
Point guard Braswell, who dictated terms on the floor like a traffic police officer, said they were mindful the Hawks had had a "hell of a fourth quarter" in Invercargill in pegging back a 30-point lead to about eight although they had lost.
"We didn't forget that so we knew it was going to be a tougher game because Zack Atkinson didn't play well down there and Paora Winitana [religious beliefs] wasn't there either.
"Anytime Paora plays on the court he's a leader so others are going to follow him," Braswell said, adding the Hawks did throw the kitchen sink in the final spell tonight but the Sharks put up the shutters well.
"It's the first time we, defensively, have played like that."
It was always challenging to maintain a winning streak and that came from within the group, after some soul searching following three consecutive losses to begin their NBL campaign.
"These guys [Hawks] haven't been winning many games but they have had some close games and have won two in their last games against good teams," Braswell said, stressing unavailability of players and injuries had hampered their campaign.
He said the Sharks had been clicking in the past few games because the onus was on him to distribute the ball and provide the platform for Blanchfield, ex-Hawk Adrian Majstrovich, Duane Bailey, Shea Ili and Wesley to deliver.
"All I have to do is to get the ball to the right hands and they do the rest."
With Wesley, Blanchfield, Majstrovich and himself finding traction with the hoop from the carpark, Braswell said the temptation often was to chuck the ball to them albeit not religiously.
"We take our fair share of threes but the ball has to go in first [to the D] so when it comes back out then we can shoot it."
Majstrovich scored 18 points and plucked nine rebounds while Wesley added 14 points to the collective and claimed seven off the glass.
The Sharks out-rebounded the Hawks 41-31 and shot 89 per cent from the free-throw line as opposed to the hosts' 42 per cent.
The assists department also told the sorry tale of 22-14 to Southland. The Hawks coughed up 15 turnovers to the opposition's 10.