The Illawarra Hawks have celebrated the start of Justin Tatum's interim coaching tenure with a gritty 69-65 win over fellow NBL strugglers the New Zealand Breakers in Auckland.
The Hawks sacked Jacob Jackomas on Tuesday following a 2-7 start to the season that was often thwarted by lapses in intensity and hot-and-cold performances by their import trio.
Those issues were far from remedied on Sunday, but the side did just enough at the death to come out the better in a scrappy encounter.
"My guys came out and played well, I'm just happy to be able to enjoy this win," former assistant Tatum said after his first professional match as coach.
"The experience was unbelievable."
"We had really good practice this week coming into Auckland, we expected to play better (than earlier in the season) and play well and give ourselves a chance to win."
Co-captain Sam Froling (16 points, 12 rebounds) was important in giving the Hawks a size advantage over the smaller Breakers, whose import guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (20 points, six assists) was the best in a beaten side.
Another Breakers import, Anthony Lamb (20 points, seven rebounds), hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 65 heading into the final minute and force a Hawks timeout.
After the resumption, Hawks forward Gary Clark scooped up the ball when Tyler Harvey missed his jump shot and dunked for a two-point lead.
Uncharacteristically wayward for much of the night, Lamb missed a three-pointer that could have put the Breakers in front in the final 19 seconds.
Instead, Clark sealed Illawarra's third win of the season when he hit two free throws in the final seven seconds.
"They controlled the game, to be honest, that's how it felt," Breakers forward Finn Delany said.
"We had chances there at the end but we let it slip."
Heading into the FIBA break, the win draws Illawarra level with the Breakers at the bottom of the table on three wins and seven losses.
Jackson-Cartwright was courageous in the face of early foul trouble, continuing to attack the game through the paint.
Without injured guard Will McDowell-White, he masterminded a 9-2 run to begin the second quarter that hoisted the Breakers back into the game.
His influence was later quelled, with bench guard Biwali Bayles in particular doing a great job guarding him on the perimeter.
Each side was able to frustrate the other into poor shot selection with their zone defence, with the Hawks' accuracy (43 per cent) only slightly better than New Zealand's (32 per cent) from the field.
"I can't fault the effort, guys competed, defended a talented offensive team pretty well," Breakers coach Mody Maor said.
"But our offence was very, very stagnant."
Lamb's struggles early did the Breakers no favours.
He could manage only one of his eight first attempts from deep and finished with 33 per cent accuracy from the field.
At the death, the Hawks made the New Zealanders pay.