The final game of the first week of the NZNBL (New Zealand National Basketball League) saw the Nelson Giants seeking their first win against the Manawatu Jets who were coming off a huge win the previous night, boasting many good performers.
While Mika Vukona did not return, the return of Mike Karena and Dane Brooks would have boosted the confidence of the Giants which would have been needed having known what the Jets did in their last outing.
NELSON GIANTS 16 | 18 | 28 | 26 (88)
MANAWATU JETS 22 | 20 | 21 | 20 (83)
Fatigue from back-to-back games did not bother Manawatu as we were treated to a much higher scoring game than the earlier match. Winning the tip, Jets guard Jayden Bezzant passed to Taane Samuels who drained a triple within seconds of the tip. He then traded baskets with Karena who had not missed a beat. Despite huge games the previous night, Hyrum Harris (13 points, 21 rebounds) and Tom Vodanovich (38 points) were not feeling it early, although they did pick it up later. Harris turned the ball over for a Karena score, while Vodanovich missed his first shot.
Brooks found himself subbed into the game as coach Mike Fitchett was hoping he would have an immediate impact. An evenly poised first quarter of play after a Theo Johnson and-one conversion, the Jets would close the quarter out scoring eight of the last 10 points on back of a Haize Walker three and a Harris block, leading to a nice spinning layup for himself. Pulling away at the end of the quarter, Manawatu found themselves up 22-16 at quarter time.
Brooks launched himself into the game at the start of the second quarter with a huge swat off the backboard which led to a smooth finish up the other end from Nic Trathen who has enjoyed solid performances in the absence of Nelson’s star players. Vodanovich then suffered two missed three-point attempts and an offensive foul in just over a minute, a far cry from his heroics the previous night. Another Samuels triple gave the Jets an eight-point lead, and with Karena subbing out with foul trouble due to Samuels taking his second charge of the game in the tantalising matchup, it was looking dire for the Giants.
After trading baskets for two minutes, the Giants would get a stop and a Tysxun Aiolupotea floater would bring the deficit down to three-points. From there Vodanovich would leave the perimeter and put the ball on the floor as he and Walker would each score four points to extend the lead back out. If it were not for Johnson scoring five points late for the Giants, it would have been an ominous margin heading into half-time. The Jets were certainly much more convincing through the first half of play, shooting a much better percentage from the floor and controlling the tempo of the game. Johnson and seven second chance points from the Giants kept the margin to single digits with the scores 54-62.
Needing to lift the intensity, the Giants started the second half full of energy, securing a jump ball which led to an Aiolupotea layup. The good start the Giants needed was halted when Samuels continued to challenge Karena forcing him out onto the perimeter, draining another triple. The battle continued as Samuels drew a third offensive foul call on Karena, leading to a Vodanovich three, pushing the margin out to a game-high 12.
Nelson then turned it around and went on a 10-0 run for the next two minutes, including an unsportsmanlike foul and an offensive foul for Vodanovich, seeing him subbed out with four fouls. A big opportunity for the Giants, the Jets then scored seven straight points before Brooks hit the scoreboard for the first time with a much-needed triple. Johnson then secured a five-point play to see them trail by one. He would finish off his large third quarter with a go-ahead basket, before Samuels would regain the one-point lead for the Jets heading into the last quarter.
With the game in the balance heading into the final quarter, Vodanovich looked to assert himself early, but only mustered up an air ball attempt from deep and a turnover. While trading baskets, he would end up making a three in what was proving to be a see-sawing final quarter. Riley Bensemann then stepped up for Nelson and made some big plays with a block, a steal, a layup, and a triple following a stop. A Bezzant three would bring the game back to two points, yet the next two and a half minutes would bring trading baskets and turnovers back and forth until Johnson made it a two possession game with a triple with 40 seconds left.
A Harris layup would make the scores 84-83 the Giants’ way, until he committed an unsportsmanlike foul, all but ending the game. With intentional fouls and free throws ending the game at 88-83, the Giants recorded their first win for the season. A solid second half performance saw them score 13 more points than the Jets, giving them the confidence they need going forward. Johnson (20 points) and Karena (17 points, six rebounds) led the way while Trathen (11 points, six rebounds) and Aiolupotea (nine points) were both serviceable. They now sit in fourth place and face the Franklin Bulls on Tuesday.
Vodanovich (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Harris (18 points, 13 rebounds) were both impressive again as Bezzant (17 points, six rebounds) and Samuels (15 points, five rebounds) also put up solid numbers. The seventh placed Jets will be looking for more scoring depth when they face the ladder-leading Canterbury Rams on Wednesday.