Bulls book back-to-back wins with Giant triumph

FRANKLIN Bulls have moved to an even win-loss record in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown after downing Nelson Giants in a low-scoring, tight tussle. The Bulls survived a second quarter surge by the Giants to win three of the four terms and get up by six points, 75-69.

NELSON GIANTS 14 | 21 | 18 | 16 (69)
FRANKLIN BULLS 21 | 15 | 20 | 19 (75)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Isaac Davidson kicked off proceeding with an early hot hand, draining a triple 21 seconds into the contest. For the Giants, Mike Karena looked busy early with a couple of two-pointers including an impressive fade away jumper, while Jackson Stubbins and Sam Timmins were also getting involved for the Bulls. After the Giants hit the front three minutes into the quarter, Timmins and Davidson helped the Bulls go on a nice little run with eight consecutive points, and then Joel Vaiangina joined the party once he came into the action.

Sensing the urgency to turn things around, Nic Trathen nailed two free throws to keep his team in the contest, as the Bulls had chances but missed a number of jump shots both inside and outside the arc. A Riley Bensemann attempted triple was made good thanks to a double chance points rebound and lay up by Josh Leger with just over three minutes left on the clock in the first term. Dom Kelman-Poto got his first point of the night with one of two successful free throws upon returning to the court from substitution.

Just as the Giants got close, Adam Dunstan decided to take matters into his own hands and add five consecutive points to stretch the lead to nine with 29 seconds to play, before a Dane Brooks jump shot late in the peace brought the quarter time margin back to seven.

The early going was all the Bulls as the Giants could not seem to buy a basket, with Franklin adding the first six points of the term to move 13 clear of their opponents. But then the range issues hit the leading side as well, with 90 seconds going by before Karena made good on a jump shot for the Giants for their first points of the quarter, and a minute later Kelman-Poto was fouled and successfully dropped two free throws.

The Giants started to turn it around after a slow start to the term, trailing 19-34 with three minutes and 14 seconds remaining. Then everything started to click into place. Theo Johnson and Tysxun Aiolupotea dropped back-to-back triples as the usually reliable Everard Bartlett missed his chance. Timmins produced a statement dunk with just under two minutes remaining to settle the team and ensure they held a 10-point lead, but it would be the last points of the quarter for the Bulls.

Johnson sank another triple, Thomas Ingham converted two free throws, and then Karena and Ingham both added a couple of extra points to game in the last minute. In that time, the pairing of Stubbins and Bartlett could not seem to find the accuracy from long range, and the Bulls’ lead had been cut to just one at half-time.

The Giants momentum continued after the main break with Karena immediately showing why he was so dangerous, getting close to the basket with a great lay up, and then draining a two-point jump shot. The hot hands flowed onto Ingham – who was fouled by Timmins – and Brooks as the Giants had piled on 17 consecutive points across either side of the break for a seven-point advantage.

Kelman-Poto broke the five-minute scoring drought for the Bulls with an important jump shot – and the and-on conversion from the foul line. Karena was making life difficult for Franklin however, slamming home another dunk at the two-and-a-half minute mark of the term. Chris McIntosh relieved some pressure with a triple midway through the term to cut the Bulls deficit to three, but Zeb Lovell soon increased that back up by answering that with a two-pointer. The teams traded blows late in the term with Bartlett finally nailing a triple, and his second triple – with 51 seconds remaining – saw the Bulls find the form of the first term.

Trailing by four points with just over a minute remaining, Kelman-Poto, Bartlett and Connor Woodbridge added a combined seven points to regain the lead at the death by three points. It set up a huge final term between the teams with everything on the line and the crowd on the edge of their seats.

It was the Bulls who struck first blood in the final stanza with Kelman-Poto and Timmins both impressing to give Franklin a seven-point advantage. Bensemann cut that back with a triple, but Nikau McCullough responded with a nice lay up. Neither team could seemingly hit a shot over the next couple of minutes until McCullough broke the drought, this time with a triple and the Bulls were out to a nine-point lead with seven minutes to play. Karena again stood tall with a fade away jumper, but as soon as he had cut the deficit back to seven, Davidson responded with a double of his own.

Each time the Giants were in trouble, it was Karena who stepped up as he continued to drain baskets and seemingly do it all in a desperate bid to haul his team over the line. With three and a half minutes to play, he earned one last rest after the last six points for the Giants. When he returned, there was two-and-a-half on the clock and Davidson drained a jump shot to stretch the Bulls lead to five.

There was no way Karena and his side was going to fade away – apart from his jumpers – as Lovell drilled a triple, and Karena quickly added a layup after Davidson missed a two-point jumper. The Bulls looked to be struggling to find avenues to the basket with a 24-second shot clock violation expiring and the ball handed back to the Giants as they trailed by two with 44 seconds remaining. The ball landed in the hands of Ingham who took a chance at the long-range jumper but missed, and Kelman-Poto got it to Stubbins who was quickly fouled to ensure the Bulls could not take time off the clock.

After missing his first free throw, Stubbins converted the second and the lead was three with 35 seconds remaining. Ingham again had the chance for redemption, but again missed it. This time it was Davidson collecting the defensive rebound and was immediately fouled. He too went at 50 per cent from the charity stripe, but it was enough to make it a two-possession game with a four-point lead.

The pressure was now getting to the Giants with Josh Bloxham called for ball handling and turned it over, with Stubbins getting fouled and making both free throws to put the result beyond doubt – barring a miracle – with 15 seconds remaining. Ingham tried to slice up the defence with a pass but Davidson picked his pocket and with nine seconds remaining, it ensured the Bulls would get up in a massive edge-of-the-seat contest, 75-69.

Whilst Karena was the star off the boards across the game with 26 points – at 70.6 per cent efficiency – as well as seven defensive rebounds – it was the even spread of the Bulls that got them home. Davidson recorded a team-high 15 points, as well as four rebounds and two steals, whilst McCullough (11 points), Kelman-Poto (10 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Timmins (10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals) also reached double figures. Whilst Stubbins only shot one from four from the field, he still nailed some important free throws and had 10 rebounds to go with his five points and two assists.

Other than Karena, Ingham (eight points, nine rebounds) and Lovell (six points, six rebounds) were prominent off the boards, but the former could not find his range with just one from 13 from the field, and five turnovers. The Giants will now take on the Canterbury Rams tomorrow night, whilst the Bulls play in the earlier game against Otago Nuggets.

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