THE Auckland Huskies stunned the second place Otago Nuggets in a full four quarter performance to run out 12-point victors (81-69) in the Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) last night. The Huskies led throughout the game, stopping the normally free scoring Nuggets in their tracks and controlling the tempo of the game with their attacking prowess.
OTAGO NUGGETS 18 | 20 | 13 | 18 (69)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 23 | 21 | 17 | 20 (81)
Jordan Ngatai struck first for the Nuggets with the big man converting the first layup of the game before Marvin Williams-Dunn delivered for the Huskies with a triple. From there on in the play seemed to lie with the Huskies as Leon Henry chimed in with a three-pointer to push his side out to a solid lead. The ball ebbed and flowed across the court with neither side able to capitalise on their chances with Taine Murray and Otago Nuggets star, Jarrod Kenny missing a couple of shots. Ngatai seemed to be the only one able to apply any sort of scoreboard pressure for the Nuggets, while Auckland shared the load around with the likes of Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Tohi Smith-Milner asserting themselves on the contest. It was not until the six-and-a-half-minute mark that someone other than Ngatai hit the scoreboard for the Nuggets with Jordan Hunt stepping up to the plate to cut the deficit to one point. With the Nuggets pushing hard, Smith-Milner upped the ante in attack dropping back-to-back points to re-establish a four-point lead. The insertion of Darcy Knox into the game worked wonders for Otago with the Nuggets attacking the basket and using his frame to have an influence across the boards. With just over three minutes left in the quarter Kane Keil converted from a free-throw, keeping his side within striking distance of the Huskies, before a big final couple of minutes saw Auckland blow the lead back out to five points mainly thanks to Nathan Wilson.
The second quarter delivered very similar results for the Nuggets, who were unable to implement their signature style of play instead succumbing to the pressure of the Huskies. In the opening minutes of the quarter Richie Roger showcased his ability to shoot from range, sinking a triple with teammate Josh Aitcheson quickly following up on his good work to also slot a triple and reduce the margin to one point once again. Steadily drawing closer, Wilson held his nerve laying an impressive dunk and the converting again moments later for the Huskies. Despite the best efforts of Kenny, Auckland seemed unfazed, going about their business until Akiva McBirney-Griffin slammed one home for Otago to level the scores with just under seven minutes remaining in the term. The increased intensity saw the ball bubble around with both teams struggling to hit the scoreboard but it was Murray to break the stalemate first and send his side somewhat into a scoring spree. Murray was involved in everything, while Henry also chimed in, pushing the Huskies out to an 11-point lead but the Nuggets refused to give in stringing together a solid couple of minutes to dwindle the lead back down to six at half-time.
Continuing their hot start to the game, it did not take long for Mauriohooho Le’Afa to convert and extend the lead for Auckland. Having somewhat of a quieter quarter, Smith-Milner quickly got back into the thick of things while the Nuggets struggled to maintain possession with a couple of sloppy passes and missed shots at goal. Murray found his stroke from beyond the arc, sinking a nice three while for the Nuggets, Ngatai and Aitcheson stood up under the pressure to draw back the lead. The combination of Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Murray was proving too hard to handle for Otago, with the duo running rings around their opposition. Much like the patch in the second quarter, both sides were at a standstill unable to knock back points and feeling each other out. But it was the Nuggets that blinked first, gifting the Huskies with a chance to stream down court and convert for the first time in over two minutes. With the lead out at 13 points, the Nuggets looked to the bench to provide some fresh legs but it was Rogers that delivered sinking a much needed triple before Ngatai got his side back within seven points. But a big shot from Reuben Fitzgerald, stopped the Nuggets in their tracks heading into the final change.
Kenny upped the ante in defence with a clever block finished off by Ngatai who gobbled up the rebound but simply could not convert. With a sense of urgency in their play and desperation to win ball back and score the Nuggets line-up contested everything that came their way but were plagued by inaccuracy, while the Huskies withstood that rush of momentum as Smith-Milner continued his merry way nailing back-to-back threes. Extending the lead to 14 points at the half way mark of the final term, Ngatai and Aitcheson took control for the Nuggets but it was simply not enough to offset the Huskies who could sense their second win. Despite a strong couple of minutes from Otago to reduce the margin to a mere eight points the closest they had been in the second half, Williams-Dunn crushed any hopes nailing the next four points.
Ngatai dominated for the Nuggets, sinking a team high 19 points along with eight rebounds and three assists. The next closest for the Nuggets was Hunt with 12 points and seven rebounds while Aitcheson managed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. For the Huskies, Murray showcased his scoring prowess with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists to his name. Teammate Smith-Milner was hot on his tail when it came to scoreboard contribution with 17 while his 10 defensive rebounds capped off a stellar performance. Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Henry also managed double digits for their side with 12 and 11 points respectively but it was Henry’s rebounding ability that really shone recording 14 for the night, in what was a team effort from the bottom of the table Huskies.