Tag: richard rodger

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #1 – Ngatai block saves GF for Otago, Nuggets hold on in final seconds

IN what was the culmination of an action-packed month and a half of basketball, the events that ensued in this season’s Grand Final between the Otago Nuggets and the Manawatu Jets, in particular the final minutes, fittingly rounded out the NZNBL this year as a whole as the Nuggets clinched a two-point victory (79-77). Due to this, it concludes Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments at the number one-spot.

For the full match report of this year’s Grand Final between the Nuggets and the Jets – Click HERE

Otago had defeated the Jets in their previous four encounters, meaning Manawatu entered the Grand Final as the underdogs. But for Tim McTamney and his side, all prior meetings were irrelevant and one win on the night could crown them NZNBL champions.

It only took a few seconds for the Jets to get their squad going, as Hyrum Harris dunked the ball with two hands, which was quickly followed up with a layup from the league MVP in Thomas Vodanovich. Fortunately for Otago, the experience and calmness from veteran teammate and Defensive Player of the Year, Jarrod Kenny, the Nuggets hit back with a couple of baskets of their own, slowing the momentum of the Jets.

Limited opportunities would present themselves to both teams in the opening period, but the Jets were smart enough to attack the rim early on, edging out a slight two-point lead heading into the first intermission.

An unexpected turn for the worst had the Nuggets on the back foot for the majority of the second quarter. Jordan Ngatai, Otago’s number one draft pick and Brent Matehaere’s go-to man, had run into early foul trouble and sat out for most of the second quarter meaning Otago’s secondary unit had to step up.

While Manawatu outscored the Nuggets in the second 24-22, Ngatai and Kenny gained extended periods of rest, as their bench players limited the Jets’ ability to score. Additionally, their bigs in Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil made their presence known, as they pulled down a number of rebounds to convert on numerous second chance opportunities. Furthermore, terrific ball-movement from coach Matehaere’s role players kept his side in the contest, culminating in a corner three for Richard Rodger to tie the game with few minutes to play in the first half.

In a first half that saw eight lead changes, there were not many things that the final was missing to make it a great game, but the main concern for Manawatu was their inability to capitalise on Otago’s turnovers (14 in the first half).

The combination of Hunt and Keil injected a sense of composure into their side, as the frontcourt duo strung together a pivotal 10-0 run. The points swing in favour of the Nuggets was quickly upended, as Kalib Mullins’ three-pointer out of the timeout got the Jets’ bench on their feet. Shortly before the final break, late field goals from Harris and Jayden Bezzant re-secured the advantage for Manawatu, as the Jets held onto a flimsy three-point lead with 10 minutes still to play.

Re-energised and raring to go, Ngatai opened up the fourth with the initial points of the stanza and after Joshua Aitcheson and Keil knocked down their third triples of the contest each, the Nuggets helped themselves to an 11-0 start to the fourth quarter, blowing the game out of the water. But the triple-threat of Vodanovich, Harris and Bezzant did not back down, gradually grinding away at the deficit throughout the final term. Luckily for Manawatu, they whittled the Nuggets’ lead down to just three points with over the two minutes left to play in the Grand Final.

As the intensity and the pressure started to grow for both sides, each basket started to feel like two, and Ngatai who had played limited minutes up to this point had a couple tricks up his sleeve. The Tall-Black and New Zealand Breaker penetrated the lane for another signature right-hand jam turning Trusts Arena into a frenzy. But, back-to-back buckets from Bezzant made the crowd hold their breath a little longer, as the Jets trailed by just one point.

With 33 seconds left on the clock, a Hunt shot-clock violation handed the ball back to Manawatu for the final possession and a chance to win the closing game of the season. However, as Harris drove down the corridor for the right-hand layup, Ngatai swooped in from the side, pinning the shot against the backboard with the game-saving block. A moment for Otago’s supporters to cherish for the rest of their lives.

After Aitcheson was intentionally fouled following regaining possession of the ball, the 22-year-old had a chance to ice the game. After missing one of his free-throws, the Jets chose not to call a timeout, meaning that Nelson Kirksey’s shot from half court on the buzzer was the last gasp for the green and white.

Sailing through the air for what seemed like an eternity, the ball clang off the left side of the rim as the Otago Nuggets claimed their first NZNBL title in franchise history, capping off what was a fitting way to end the most unique and possibly most controversial campaign in the NZNBL’s history. For this, it deserves the top-spot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the season.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #8 – Nelson’s statement win over Otago to conclude season

FOR most of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season, the Nelson Giants struggled to string together many triumphs in the 14 games of their campaign, finishing with a record of five wins and nine losses. But when the final game of the regular season came around, the Giants were hell bent on finishing on a good note.

The NZNBL this year has been touted as one of the most even in terms of the skill and the ability of all seven teams. Nelson’s final matchup with the first ranked Otago Nuggets is truly a testament to this statement, as it makes an appearance in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the 2020 NZNBL season.

Full the full match report between the Giants and the Nuggets – Click HERE

Coming off of two demoralising defeats at the hands of the Auckland Huskies (67-96) and the Taranaki Mountain Airs (95-102) in their two prior outings, Nelson was in need of some dire momentum if they were to put themselves in as good of form as possible heading into finals week. However, to do this the Giants had to be flawless for a full four quarters if they were any chance to conquer minor premiers, Otago Nuggets.

While Otago limited the minutes of their marquee duo in Jordan Ngatai and Jarrod Kenny before their Qualifying Final as well as both bigs in Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil being absent due to “niggles” according to coach Brent Matehaere, the point still stood that Nelson needed to make a statement before finals.

The opening 10 minutes of play did not bode well for the Giants, as the Nuggets blew out of the starting blocks with their shooters ablaze, knocking down six first quarter threes led by Darcy Knox and Richard Rodger who had two each in the opening term. Otago produced an attractive 28-21 quarter time lead and it was obvious what Nelson needed to limit them for the remainder of the contest.

Mike Fitchett managed to hammer home the message of limiting Otago’s long-range shooting, as the Giants held the Nuggets to just four threes in total over the next three quarters and contribute to their fantastic defence during the stretch of play.

Through multiple stops and neutralising Otago’s scoring avenues, Nelson found themselves in the lead halfway through the second after a corner three from Thomas Ingham. The majority of the second entailed the trading of buckets, but a 7-0 scoring run thanks to Mike Karena and Tom Gargiulo, capped off the first half in dominant fashion and gave their side an eight-point advantage at the main break.

Despite a couple of big plays from Otago, the Nuggets could not eat into their double-digit deficit as Karena and his side continued their good defence in the final quarters of the encounter. Next to Karena, Zeb Lovell and Mika Vukona provided supplementary points down low in the paint as the Giants pummelled their South Island neighbours around the basket.

A final layup by Tysxun Aiolupotea with 27 seconds left in the game put the stamp on the one-sided affair, with the Giants putting on a defensive clinic over a Nuggets side that now had to quickly shift their focus to the Manawatu Jets a couple days later.

Nelson held the Nuggets to just 46 points in the last three quarters, as the Giants accumulated 76 points of their own in the same period of time. The winning side tallied 52 points in the paint, compared to the Nuggets’ 30, helping the Giants achieve a 52 per cent shooting average on the night.

Karena led the game in scoring with 26 points and three assists, while Ingham added a further 17 points and five rebounds. On the other side of the aisle, Knox displayed his offence for the Nuggets by serving up a team-high 17 points off the bench in 23 minutes of court time.

Nelson’s 97-74 demolition job of Otago marked their fifth and final win of the season and slotted them into sixth position to conclude the campaign. But the fact that Nelson was able to trounce the eventual champions of the season, fully embodies the level of competition the NZNBL had on display this year.

Otago strikes gold, defeating Jets for first ever NZNBL title

THE New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 2020 season has ended in a thriller, with the Otago Nuggets clenching their first ever Championship title, in an exhilarating 79-77 conclusion to the campaign over the Manawatu Jets. The contest saw many lead changes and scoring runs and could only be separated by a missed three-pointer at the buzzer with Brent Matehaere and his boys heading back to the South Island with an extra piece of silverware.

OTAGO NUGGETS 15 | 22 | 15 | 27 (79)
MANAWATU JETS 17 | 24 | 14 | 22 (77)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

This year’s NZNBL Grand Final was a matchup between the two undisputed top teams all season long, but the Jets had a massive chip on their shoulder, as they were yet to defeat the Nuggets in their four prior contests. But the green and white looked to their key players to have a noticeable impact on a Nuggets squad that had yet to face adversity up to this point of their campaign.

It was Manawatu with the explosive first punch as Hyrum Harris slammed down the two-hand jam just mere seconds after the opening tip. This was then followed up with a layup from Thomas Vodanovich, as the Jets stunned Otago within the opening sequences. The experience of Jarrod Kenny and the range of Joshua Aitcheson quickly settled the nerves amongst their side, with a couple of field goals in what would be an adrenaline-filled opening term.

While both sides continued to trade baskets in the initial minutes, Manawatu maintained a slight edge, as they got to the rim fast and early on dribble penetration and fast break offence. The second half of the first quarter entailed a scrappier brand of basketball, as both teams struggled to find their targets. This trend was abruptly bucked after a strong second chance bucket from youngster Akiva McBirney-Griffin, after almost three minutes without a made basket from both sides, cutting the deficit to one point, 13-12.

Aitcheson’s lucky drop from three-point range and a putback-layup from Nelson Kirksey concluded proceedings in the first period, with the Jets held a fragile 17-15 lead thanks to their defensive pressure. Otago’s nine opening-quarter turnovers and Manawatu’s six steals created what seemed like a lop-sided first 10 minutes, but Aitcheson’s two threes were keeping the Nuggets within striking range.

Matehaere’s bigs Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil came through with a couple buckets to lead off the second, quickly handing the side the lead while appearing to have a new level of calm. But, back-to-back layups for Vodanovich quickly reminded spectators why he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Early foul trouble for Jordan Ngatai and an extended rest period for Kenny early in the second quarter, saw Otago’s second unit display some terrific ball movement. The main highlight of this was a well-executed corner three by way of Richard Rodger. A similar story to the first, the Jets maintained a slight lead heading into half-time and following an And-One from Harris with less than two minutes remaining, it seemed Manawatu would inherit the momentum. But, Keil’s three to answer back with 90 seconds to go undid most of that.

In a half that saw eight lead changes and a halfway deficit of just four points (37-41), the NZNBL’s final game of the season had it all. But the main talking point of the game to this point was Ngatai’s lack of court time through 20 minutes. The number one draft pick had only seven minutes and 46 seconds on the hardwood, which when coupled with Otago’s 14 giveaways, was slightly worrying for Tim McTamney’s side that they were not further ahead.

Vodanovich and Kirksey led the way on the scoreboard for Manawatu with 11 each, whereas Hunt and Keil contributed 11 and 10 points for the Nuggets in a first half that saw a different story of play from each squad. With Ngatai making his return in the second half, Otago had an air of composure surrounding them, kicking off the third period with a fast-break layup to Hunt a minute and a half in. As well as Keil knocking down the mid-range jumper shortly after.

The two players helped the Nuggets to a remarkable 10-0 run, which was capped off by Ngatai’s first bucket of the game leading to a Jets timeout to try and stall the Minor Premier’s confidence.

Manawatu’s team huddle worked momentarily, as Kalib Mullins knocked down a triple to get the Jets bench on their feet. The rest of the third period remained relatively level-headed, with Manawatu grinding their way back into a one-possession game and eventually back into the lead credited to Vodanovich’s second three of the game, putting the score at 51-50.

Late buckets from Harris and Jayden Bezzant helped the Jets re-secure the lead for the final break, leading 55-52 with the final stanza still to be played and neither team really gaining a real upper hand on one another.

Ngatai’s quarter-opening layup and Aitcheson’s third three of the contest gifted the lead back to Otago, and Keil added insult to injury with a third three of his own. An And-One from Ngatai rounded out an 11-0 run for the Nuggets blowing the game out of the water two and a half minutes into the final period.

However, over the next five minutes, the combination of Vodanovich, Harris and Bezzant brought the deficit back to as little as three points with just over two minutes left in the game. But, another signature right-hand jam from Ngatai held off the Jets a while longer in an event filled final two minutes. A couple buckets from Bezzant brought Manawatu back from the dead with less than a minute to go making the score 78-77, and after Hunt conceded a shot-clock violation with 33 seconds left for Otago, the Jets had the chance to win the game with one more field goal.

But Ngatai had other plans, after pinning Harris’s layup to the backboard on a game saving block with 29 seconds left. After a couple of intentional fouls, Aitcheson’s single made free-throw put the Nuggets up by two.

Not calling a final timeout, the last second half court heave from Kirksey would hit the left side of the rim to end the final play of the season, as the Nuggets held on for a hard-fought 79-77 win. After the two-point triumph, the reality had set in for Otago knowing that they had won their franchise’s first ever NZNBL title.

In a game that saw both teams earn every single basket, neither side was able to crack 50 per cent shooting, but the difference proved to be Otago’s range as they knocked down 10 triples over the four phases of play compared to Manawatu’s six. Another glaring difference in the statistics was the rebounding totals, with Otago earning a plus-13 on the boards (48-35).

Despite Manawatu forcing 23 turnovers from the Nuggets, it was Otago that capitalised on their chances, earning 20 points from turnovers, five more than the Jets.

After an honourable 21-point and seven-rebound performance, it was only fitting that Jordan Hunt was awarded Finals MVP honours. Meanwhile, Aitcheson had himself a season-best performance of his own, amassing 16 points off of four threes and six rebounds.

Despite limited minutes with just 11 points and eight turnovers, Ngatai still made valuable contributions with six rebounds and four assists. Whereas, Kenny had an all-around night with six points, seven boards and eight assists.

Another MVP-calibre performance from Vodanovich (24 points, 10 rebounds and four steals) was not enough to get his side over the hump. Nevertheless, another great night from Harris (19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals) rounded out a prolific season on the whole for the two New Zealanders.

In what was a top-to-bottom job from the beginning of the season, it was certainly an entertaining finale to the NZNBL for 2020 and after receiving his championship medal, Coach Matehaere credited his team for their tremendous finish to the season.

“To my guys, you wouldn’t have seen it on television because we were sitting behind a screen, but on Draft Night… oh what a night,” reminisced the Coach of the Year.“ I was smiling all the way through [picks] one to 12 or one to 84. Kia Ora boys, this is our moment.”

Giants trounce Nuggets, gain essential morale before finals

ANOTHER upset win for the Nelson Giants can be added to the books, as they came away with an impressive 23-point shellacking of the top of the table Otago Nuggets in last night’s 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) middle game of the triple-header.

NELSON GIANTS 21 | 31 | 22 | 23 (97)
OTAGO NUGGETS 28 | 15 | 15 | 16 (74)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Knowing full well the outcome of last night’s result was to have no effect on each team’s positioning for next week’s Finals, the Nuggets were without starting big-man Jordan Hunt and stretch-four shooter Kane Keil. As a result, both Brent Matehaere and Mike Fitchett could tinker around with their sides before their games next week, despite it being a clash between first and second last. It also allowed both coaches to allow any players with “niggles” to gain much needed rest.

Even though young Kiwi big-man Akiva McBirney-Griffin got the starting nod from his side, Mike Karena quickly reminded him of the pecking order to begin the game, converting on a running hook. Nevertheless, Joshua Aitcheson knocked down a triple to get the ball rolling for the Nuggets. It was evident early on that each team went about scoring in totally different fashions. For the Giants, it was attacking the rim hard and getting up close and personal with Otago’s frontcourt, as 14 of their first 17 points came from inside the paint. For the Nuggets, they knocked down five shots from deep in their first ten attempts, signalling a more distant approach to getting on the scoreboard. The quarter time totals would reflect a slight advantage in favour of the Nuggets, who’s 28-21 lead came as a result of their bench’s contributions, outscoring Nelson’s 12-2 in the first 10 minutes. Eight points of which, came by way of Darcy Knox, along with Matthew Bardsley and Samuel Aruwa hitting a shot each.

To commence the second, Nelson slowly but surely began to crawl their way back taking the lead halfway through the quarter, thanks to a corner three from Thomas Ingham. But, both sides would remain within earshot of one another, dealing blows to back and forth for most of the remaining few minutes in the first half. Consecutive fast-break layups from Karena and a three-pointer from Tom Gargiulo handed Nelson a commanding nine-point lead heading into the main intermission after a 31-15 period, due mainly to instrumental rebounds, which in turn translated to a bunch of second chance points in the paint over the first two periods (14-4). Karena and Knox both led their teams in scoring at halftime, with the Giants’ center compiling 17 points in eleven and a half minutes of court time, before getting the second half started with an and-one.

A nice Euro-Step by Jordan Ngatai got the number one draft pick going after a rather quiet first half, making just one three in the initial 20 minutes of game time. With this being just one example of lacklustre performances through three quarters, Otago struggled to cut into the double-digit deficit that the Giants had created. An enormous dunk by Ngatai looked to spark an injection of energy into his side, as McBirney-Griffin repeated the action on the next play forcing Nelson to call a time-out.

The task of a fourth quarter comeback was made even harder for the Nuggets however, after a hook-shot once again from Karena extended Nelson’s lead to 16 with 30 seconds left in the third, as both teams went to the huddle one more time for the regular season with Nelson on top 74-58. Nicolas Trathen made Otago’s lofty deficit even greater to start the fourth, following a friendly roll from deep. And to make matters worse, Zeb Lovell’s up-and-under layup helped Nelson to their biggest lead of the contest (20). The Nuggets remained persistent in staying in the contest, but the fact of the matter was that Otago was undermanned and lacking size. And after Gargiulo was able to find the target for his second three with three minutes to go, Nelson could secure the upset result and obtain their fifth win of the year, taking home the triumph 97-74.

It was a one-sided affair down low in the paint, as the absences of Hunt and Keil factored majorly into the statistics. Nelson put their foot down with an impressive 52 points in the paint compared to Otago’s 30. While a number of bench players got remarkably more minutes due to the insignificance of the meeting, it remained a two-man effort through four quarters. A stat line of 26 points in 17 minutes, alongside three rebounds and three assists rounded out a dominant night around the rim for Karena, whereas Ingham was feeling his stroke to finish off the season with three threes to go next to his 17 points and six rebounds in another quality performance.

In what was a quiet night for both Jarrod Kenny and Ngatai, with both combining for 29 minutes of court time, the night belonged to the youngsters. Props went to Knox, who came off the bench to account for a team-high 17 points, meanwhile McBirney-Griffin and Richard Rodger each paved their own way with 13 points apiece.

The fates of both teams are already known for their first matchups of Finals Week, as the Nuggets who locked up top spot in standings go up against the Manawatu Jets in the qualifying final on Tuesday night. At the other end of the table, the Giants lock horns with the Canterbury Rams on Tuesday night as well, however, it will be a win or go home situation, as the teams engage in first elimination final of the postseason.

Rams fail to strike gold, Nuggets triumph in South Island Derby

OTAGO Nuggets have rebounded back from their disappointing result on Thursday night against the Franklin Bulls, knocking off Canterbury last night in the Battle of the South. The result caused the Rams to enter a three-game losing slump in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown as a handful of their players were feeling under the weather prior to tipoff, in particular Taylor Britt.

CANTERBURY RAMS 22 | 20 | 12 | 23 (77)
OTAGO NUGGETS 28 | 28 | 9 | 22 (87)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

A certain matchup that fans were excited to see, was the duo of Canterbury’s Britt, who is a current Perth Wildcat, and Jarrod Kenny, a former Wildcat himself. In true fashion, both of the men would open up the scoring for their respective sides in an accurate first quarter.

For the Rams, 17 shots were hoisted up in the opening period, 10 of which found the mark (58 per cent). Whereas, for the Nuggets, they shot 52 per cent, but made up for that in attacking the rim and getting to the line. With Jordan Ngatai and Jordan Hunt leading the charge, Otago would convert on six attempts from the charity strike, compared to Canterbury who never made it to the free-throw line once in the introductory 10 minutes.

With both sides landing punches in most of the following quarter, neither team could genuinely gain the upper hand and bend the contest to their will, which made Matthew Bardsley’s eight second-quarter points and five rebounds a section of the game to watch with intent. Bardsley shot four of five from the field during the second quarter in just five minutes of court time prior to the end of the first half, helping the Nuggets to grab the game with both hands, leading 42-56 after two quarters.

As Britt exited the game temporarily due to illness, everyone was expecting the Nuggets to run away with the contest, as the Rams were without their marquee player. But Mick Downer’s squad were not going down without a fight, as they not only outscored the Nuggets in the third quarter, they held the other team to just nine points, putting them in good stead for a late game charge in the final 10 minutes.

Early in the fourth, a layup through contact and a three from Quintin Bailey would bring the deficit to just six points for the Rams, kickstarting a late run that Canterbury were hoping for at the end of the third, and after his return three minutes into the fourth, Britt’s layup would make the clash a one possession game, at 65-68. Furthermore, when big man Thomas Webley followed up with a nice finish around the rim, it cut the Nuggets’ lead to just one point with 6:16 left capping off an 18-7 run, providing a game that anyone could snag.

But Otago was not going to let another match slip through their fingers, as a barrage of triples from Richard Rodger and Kane Keil would round out a stellar night for the Nuggets eventuating in the 87-77 triumph.

While the Rams shot better as a team through all four quarters, going 33 of 68 (48 per cent), the factors in the final result came down to the three ball and free throws, as the Nuggets attacked the rim hard and found the open shooter at an extraordinary rate, accumulating 11 three-pointers and 12 free-throws in the win.

Secondly, the Nuggets’ bench proved to be much more effective, outworking the Rams in points off the bench 36-24, allowing stars like Ngatai and Kenny to gain valuable rest heading into their next contest against the Huskies on Tuesday.

For Ngatai specifically, he finished his performance with a team-high 19 points, as well as five rebounds, four assists and three steals, boasting another all-around game for his side.

While Kenny would squabble for just one three-pointer in 21 minutes of game-time, he managed to pass the rock well, providing five assists for his side. Meanwhile, Keil was a major surprise, accounting for 16 points, with 12 of which coming from behind the arch, allowing him to make his first notable mark on the season so far.

High scoring totals are becoming the norm for Britt in the Sal’s NBL competition, hoarding 21 points in 21 minutes on the floor along with six rebounds and five assists. Also putting up solid points and rebounding numbers was Samuel Smith and Alexander Talma, who gathered 12 points, seven rebounds and 11 points, eight rebounds respectively, as Benjamin Carlile-Smith pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.

The Rams now face a pivotal crossroads in their season, as another loss would place the team outside the top four while also pairing the squad with a four-game losing streak, bearing in mind they need to figure out how to defeat a red-hot Franklin side. To Otago, they could challenge for a top-two seed if they can topple the struggling Huskies in a few days.

Nuggets bury Giants with final term flurry

OTAGO Nuggets found an extra gear when required in the final term to storm past an understrength but gallant Nelson Giants in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown clash last night. The Nuggets pulled all the strings throughout the game, and were in control to the extent that Wednesday night’s top scorer and Most Valuable Player (MVP) Jarrod Kenny did not even attempt a shot. Instead, it was Jordan Ngatai who led the way with 23 points, as well as three rebounds, three assists and three steals, supported well by a host of teammates.

OTAGO NUGGETS 26 | 30 | 20 | 31 (107)
NELSON GIANTS 19 | 26 | 21 | 16 (82)

[ … FULL GAME STATS … ]

Despite some whispers that star Giant and Tall Blacks legend Mika Vukona might take to the court during the match, Nelson opted to let their first pick sit out and instead return for Sunday night’s clash with Manawatu Jets. Given the Giants were still missing other top three draft selections, Mike Karena and Dane Brooks, the firepower was severely impacted. Not so much for the Nuggets, fresh off a win against the Jets 24 hours earlier, as they raced away to a 26-19 lead at quarter time.

Kane Keil score the first points of the night, as he and Jordan Hunt went to work early with four points apiece leading the Nuggets to an 8-2 advantage five minutes into the term. Whilst many expected Kenny and Ngatai to do all the damage early, it was the former who opted to use his slick passing to advantage to dish off dimes to teammates, whilst the latter had just four points in the term.

Young gun Tysxun Aiolupotea was doing what he could in the first term, forcing fouls from the opposition and scoring four consecutive free throws to cut the nine-point deficit into a five-point one late in the term. Thomas Ingham‘s desperate attempt to score in the last few seconds saw him finish the term with a couple of free throws himself and his side headed in seven points behind.

Ngatai soon made his intentions known with the first five points of the second term, whilst Hunt completed the alley oop from Kenny, earned the foul and then sank the and-one opportunity. When Ngatai made it eight points for the term in less than two minutes, he and his side were in complete control and the margin had blown out to 18 points. Ingham and Nicolas Trathen tried their hand to get the Giants back into it with the next five points, but another clever layup after a steal from Keil piled on more pressure for the trailing side.

Without the Giants’ big three, Ingham and Trathen were left to pick up the slack in the first half as the pair almost exclusively piled on the points scoring 34 of the Giants’ 45 points. Trathen had 19, as well as five rebounds and an assist at the half, whilst Ingham had 15, seven and three in an equally big performance. Ngatai had started to get his hot hands going with 14 points in the term to move up to 18, as he became the predominant score alongside Hunt who had 12.

Coming out after half-time, Kenny’s refusal to put up a shot continued as he provided a neat assist to Ngatai for a layup. Otago had led by 11 at the main break thanks to a Jack Andrew buzzer beating dunk, but were not out of the woods yet. Nelson could not quite find the right formula to score enough. The game looked all but over in the third term when Richard Rodger drilled a three-point jumper with seven minutes remaining after the Nuggets had gone on a tear, scoring nine of the first points for the term.

A late inclusion into the Giants squad and wearing the injured Thane O’Leary guernsey, Josh Leger tried all he could getting into the post, visibly frustrated by the Nuggets’ defence, but he was forcing them to be accountable on that end. To that point earlier in the term, the Giants defence around the perimeter had been lax which let the Nuggets free reign at times shooting from long-range. Both Leger and Zeb Lovell were starting to work their magic and then came Riley Bensemann.

Trailing by 14 points, the Giants shooter shot back-to-back three-pointers, then handed off an assist for a Josh Bloxham three minutes later. In a remarkable turn of events, the Giants were within five points and it was a ball game. Sensing the importance of the moment, Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere called a time out and questioned the communication of his side. The pep talk worked for the last 90 seconds as they scored seven of the last nine points of the quarter to lead 78-68 at the final break.

The teams traded blows early in the final term, but once the Nuggets got going thanks to a Ngatai triple with six minutes remaining, they had control. Scoring 22 of the last 32 points, it was party time for the undefeated side as their 17-5 run in the middle of the term from that Ngatai triple ended any doubt about the winner of the contest. For the last few minutes the Nuggets starters were on the best enjoying the show as the bench players went to work padding some of their stats and working hard both defensively and offensively to send a message to the rest of the competition.

Whilst Ngatai was the star, the Nuggets had a huge amount of contributors, with Hunt (19 points, two rebounds) and Keil (11 points, four rebounds) impressing from the starting line-up. Off the bench, it was Aicheson (13 points, two rebounds) and Rodger (11 points, two assists and two steals) who scored a fair chunk of the points. The likes of Darcy Knox (eight points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals) and teenage wrecking ball, Akiva McBirney-Griffin – who claimed as many bodies on the court as he did points – played strong roles across the game.

For the Giants, Trathen (21 points, seven rebounds) and Ingham (17 points, eight rebounds) did not really add too much to their first half domination, with Bensemann’s nine points, and Aiolupotea and Lovell’s eight each the next highest for the side. Lovell also finished with seven rebounds and three assists, but it was the team turnovers that cost the Giants with 22 to 12, and whilst they had a plus six in rebounds, were minus eight in assists.

Sunday could not come fast enough for Giants fans who will welcome back Vukona with open arms. The side has been gallant without him and the other injured stars, but did not have enough class to really run out four quarters. For the Nuggets, they rest up for the week and have certainly earned it, heading 2-0 to start their 2020 campaign.