Tag: Thomas Vodanovich

Nine straight for Wildcats after tight win over Kings

THE stunning form of the Perth Wildcats continued with Thursday night’s 73-69 victory against the Sydney Kings at Qudos Bank Arena. The game marked the third consecutive matchup between last year’s National Basketball League (NBL) grand finalists, and the anticipation was electric heading into the game. Perth was on fire, but could the Kings break the winning streak?

They certainly had the talent and the motivation, but the class of the Wildcats could not be topped, as they ran out victors, set up by a dominant second term. To rub salt in the wound, the Kings will be heartbroken over an Achilles injury to Dejan Vasiljevic, who was a strong chance to take home the NBL Rookie of the Year award.

The first term kicked the game off in terrific fashion, with high scoring outputs from both sides, as the game was set up to be a top-quality affair. Both teams were finding good looks under the basket, with many of the 49 total points scored in the term coming from in the paint. The Kings took a 26-23 lead into the first break, putting themselves in an ideal position to take control of the game. This never ended up happening as the second term told a much different story, with the Wildcats smashing their opponents everywhere on the court, led by reigning MVP Bryce Cotton and big man John Mooney, who was a force around the ring, pulling in offensive rebounds and giving opposition defenders and coaches constant headaches. The ball movement and star power of the Wildcats kicked into gear in the second term, as they outscored their opponents 24-15, allowing them to take a handy six-point lead into half time.

The second half kicked off with a brave Kings fightback, as they wrestled control of the game away from their opponents to regain the lead early in the third quarter. The Wildcats seemed to have no answer for Sydney in what was a low scoring but tense quarter. Jarell Martin, whose minutes were limited in the first half due to foul trouble, checked back into the game to score five straight points for the Kings, with the home side once again looking to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the last term. Once again, the Wildcats were proving too good, as a deep Kevin White three pointer put Perth up eight points, but the Kings continued to rally, as a late Thomas Vodanovich three brought his side to within three points heading into the last in the seesawing affair. The last quarter began with Didi Louzada scoring seven straight points to give Sydney a four-point lead early in the term in a promising start. In a familiar tale, this did not last as Cotton and Mooney once again combined to terrorise the Kings and secure the ugly win by four points.

For the Wildcats, it was the first half Cotton and Mooney show that got their side over the line. The duo set the tone early, combining for 30 points before overcoming their second half shooting woes to secure the win. Cotton finished with 23 points, five rebounds and six assists while Mooney put up a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Todd Blanchfield was the side’s other double-digit scorer as he finished with 10 points of his own. For Sydney, Casper Ware once again proved invaluable, pouring in 20 points and five rebounds while keeping his side in the game with his creative scoring. Martin put up 16 points and nine rebounds in only 18 minutes of action thanks to his early fouls, while Louzada ended the game with 13 handy points, despite his inefficient shooting from deep.

The Wildcats will be looking to keep their unbeaten streak rolling, with a matchup against the seventh placed Adelaide 36ers the only thing keeping them from hitting double-digits. For the Kings, they will be looking to bounce back against the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Sunday afternoon, in a match that could shape the finals, with both teams looking to climb the ladder as the season nears its conclusion.

Kings back in top four after strong win over Sobey and Bullets

AFTER producing a strong first half, the Brisbane Bullets were unable to hold off a relentless Sydney Kings side going down in New South Wales, 90-71, with the Queensland side lacking the star power needed thanks to numerous injuries within the side. The win for the hosts helped get their five-game home stint off on the right foot – cracking the top four too as a result.

Neither team really pulled away from the other for about the first six minutes trading buckets back and forth. However, a transition three-pointer from Shaun Bruce put the Kings up 18-11 and created the first separation of the meeting.

The Kings looked as if they were going to possess a dominant first quarter lead, but a three from Brisbane shooter Jason Cadee, Nathan Sobey and Tamuri Wigness helped the Bullets to a 23-22 lead at quarter time.

Adam Forde urged his side to step up before half-time as Sydney kept knocking at the door, but Brisbane refused to budge off the back of their captain’s efforts. Sobey accounted for a career-high total before the main break with 21 points and five rebounds, which was essential as he was without Vic Law, Lamar Patterson and Anthony Drmic – all main weapons for Andrej Lemanis that he did not have.

Thanks to Sobey’s effort, the Bullets led at half-time 42-40, but that still left plenty of time for the Kings to get their noses in front before the conclusion of yesterday’s opener. Again, it was the efforts of imports Jarell Martin and Casper Ware which were able to contribute in the first half that provided the Kings with extra confidence, as the duo combined for 17 points in the first half.

It took little over a minute for Sydney to knock down back-to-back-to-back buckets and instantly lead by four to start the second half. Spanning from Thomas Vodanovich’s field goal to finish the second quarter to Blake Jones’ jump shot three and a half minutes into the third, the Kings strung together 11-straight points to solidify a commanding third term lead going ahead by seven points following the run.

The third period was a success on two fronts for the Kings as they led 61-53 after 30 minutes of basketball. The first being that had now secured a decent lead after initially starting slow out of the blocks, particularly in the first half, winning the quarter 21-11. The second had been slowing the roll of Sobey, who was limited to just five points in the third.

As soon as the Kings had found out how to shut down Sobey, the fourth quarter was nothing more than a formality with the hosts running up their margin to double digits and beyond. To cap off what was a successful night to say the least for the Kings, eight consecutive points from Craig Moller put the icing on the cake as Sydney ended last night with the 19-point win.

Brisbane’s lack of accuracy was their main obstacle last night shooting just 32 per cent, converting 23 of their 71 attempts, but shot the three-ball at a decent 46 per cent which picked up some of the slack in their offensive production. Every other category went the way of the Kings, but the most notable of Sydney’s successes was their ball movement and their damage down low in the paint. The Kings out assisted Brisbane 27-13 and owned the space near the basket, scoring 44 points in the paint compared to the Bullets’ 18.

Surprisingly, it was Moller that led his side in scoring with 20 points and five rebounds off the bench in 18 minutes on the floor, knocking down four triples on the way to the win. Martin (16 points and 10 rebounds) and Dejan Vasiljevic (13 points and five rebounds) were the next highest Sydney contributors, meanwhile Ware was the final King to accumulate 10 points or more, finishing with 11 points and nine assists.

Sobey was held to just 10 points in the second half meaning he would finish with a still impressive 31 points, nine rebounds and playing all 40 minutes, as well as going seven of seven from the free throw line and dropping six threes too. Cadee amassed 11 points and four rebounds, whereas Tyrell Harrison was an absolute animal on the boards with 19 rebounds and eight points.

Up next for Brisbane, they open up Round 13 when they travel to Wollongong to square off with the top four contending Illawarra Hawks, as the Bullets struggle to find solutions to their undermanned roster.

Despite missing an opportunity to add an extra win to their current five-game home stand in their last defeat to the Perth Wildcats a couple days ago, the Kings can exact revenge when they face the reigning champions again on Thursday at Qudos Bank Arena and defend their newly acquired top four position.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Perth rally hard in the second half, bully Kings by 24

PROVIDING the Sydney Kings with their lowest final score of the season, the Perth Wildcats are once again setting the benchmark for the other eight NBL teams, trouncing their long-time rivals with a superb second half and earning themselves the 89-65 victory away at Qudos Bank Arena.

Sydney’s efficiency from the field in the opening term was the only reason why the Kings trailed by just two points at the first intermission. Perth’s sheer number of attempts was the reason for the Wildcats’ 21-19 lead, despite an abhorrent 32 per cent success rate from the field in the opening 10 minutes and Luke Travers nailing a couple triples in the opening term.

Bryce Cotton started to terrorise the opponents defence early in the second quarter putting his side up by eight points, however Sydney’s Jarell Martin answered back with some dominant actions later on with Jordan Hunter finding some foul trouble early on.

Continuing to hang around, the Kings were able to stay within earshot of their western counterparts and drew even closer following a corner three to end the first half from Thomas Vodanovich, bringing the score line to 46-44 and maintaining the side’s shooting percentage to 51 per cent, while Cotton brought his points total to 14 at the main break and Martin bringing his to 11.

Cotton went into his bag coming out of the half-time break with three straight triples to extend his side’s lead back out to six points, threatening to take over the contest like Perth has done on some many occasions following the long break.

After winning the third quarter 19-9, Trevor Gleeson’s side led by double-digits at the conclusion of three periods and the home crowd was stunned as the reigning league-MVP almost doubled the number of points he had after two quarters in the third alone. Furthermore, Todd Blanchfield started to get in on the action as Perth held a commanding 65-53 advantage with 10 minutes left on the clock.

Kicking off the fourth with a 9-2 run, the Wildcats showed off the damage that they could do late in-game. Perth showed no mercy throughout the remainder of the contest, distancing themselves from the Kings even further expanding their final margin of victory to 24 points and securing themselves the top seed in the NBL standings in the process.

After a strong start shooting-wise for the Kings, a gradual slump from the field through the next three quarters saw their field goal percentage drop to 37 per cent (two per cent lower than Perth’s 39 per cent) which encapsulated the purple and gold’s inability to remain disciplined on the offensive end, also giving up four more turnovers that their opponents (11-7) and allowing 16 second chance points at the other end.

Scorching Sydney’s lacklustre defence, Cotton was awarded man of the match honours with 29 points, four assists and three rebounds, while youngster Travers played sensationally off the bench with 16 points. John Mooney accounted for a third of his team’s total rebounds as the big man finished with 13 points and 17 boards, and Blanchfield’s 11 points was enough to tag a good performance onto his 300th career game.

18 points and just three rebounds were logged next to Martin’s name, as well as Casper Ware contributing just six points yesterday afternoon. Sydney’s lowest scoring performance of the season only saw two other individuals account for double digits with Dejan Vasiljevic providing 13 points and four rebounds, and Hunter supplying 10 points and six rebounds of his own.

Perhaps Sydney can bounce back on Thursday when the team faces the Illawarra’s Hawks, as both sides are vying for the coveted four-spot in the NBL standings. Meanwhile, Perth’s recent run of dominance returns back home when the league leaders square off with a struggling New Zealand Breakers outfit to conclude Thursday’s double-header.

Kings overwhelm unbridled Bullets, now one win out of top four

THE final game of the Brisbane Bullets’ impressive NBL Cup run has ended in disappointment for the Queensland side, after going down 108-119 to the Sydney Kings and relinquishing the mid-season tournament to the Perth Wildcats as a result. A picture-perfect 71-point second half by the Kings and a new franchise record for points in a 40-minute game, was the main proponent for Sydney’s win last night, which now sees their record improve to seven wins and eight losses – a single win from a top four position.

After suffering their biggest loss and lowest points total in the game against the Illawarra Hawks during their last outing, Sydney looked to hit the ground running leading 10-5 in the opening few minutes. Although the Kings were able to initially put their noses in front, Nathan Sobey and Orlando Johnson were integral in kick-starting the Bullets’ night, as they were looking to extend their exemplary form during the NBL Cup.

Sobey and Anthony Drmic would combine for 14 of Brisbane’s 24 points in the first, snagging the minimal 24-23 lead after the first 10 minutes and finishing the period on a 6-0 run, while Brad Newley led the Kings in scoring after one with five points.

Following a quiet opening quarter, Jarell Martin started to have an impact on proceedings with the Kings’ import forward scoring six of the team’s first eight points in the second, but Brisbane would pull away first, pushing out to a seven-point lead as Adam Forde tried to motivate his roster. However, the Kings’ foul trouble facilitated a double-digit lead for the Bullets, but some late pressing and points off of turnovers by Sydney pulled the deficit back to eight points at half time.

Brisbane’s lead was a by-product of their 48 per cent shooting through two terms and the 12 personal fouls they forced from Sydney allowed the team to capitalise on their 10 free throws from 13 attempts, meanwhile the Kings had shot just a single free throw from the line.

Sydney flipped the script in the third with their best single-quarter scoring performance to date this season, as the Kings outscored the Bullets 38-24. Nevertheless, it was Drmic who scored a triple on the buzzer which signalled a possible dash to the finish line in the fourth involving both squads.

As the shots kept falling for both sides up until the conclusion of the game, Sydney did a tremendous job of keeping the Bullets at an arm’s distance. Ultimately, adding five more points to the final margin of victory, leaving Melbourne with an 11-point win and some momentum to utilise for the remainder of the season.

Shooting efficiency increased substantially for Sydney in the latter two quarters, raising their shooting percentage to 54 per cent, whereas Brisbane’s would drop down to 45 per cent. The Kings’ 54 points in the paint was also highly pivotal to the outcome of last night, as was their 14 extra points off the back of turnovers forced.

Bouncing back from an average performance last time out, Casper Ware made amends with 25 points, 10 assists and four rebounds in what was safe to say a complete game. Martin also reminded onlookers what he was capable of with 21 points in 21 minutes, also adding three rebounds despite finding early foul trouble. Four other Kings reached double digits with Craig Moller putting up 15, Jordan Hunter and Thomas Vodanovich contributing 13 points apiece and Shaun Bruce ending with 11.

Both Sobey and Vic Law (23 points and nine rebounds) had good nights overall, but Sobey was phenomenal by a mile leaving the floor with 35 points, six assists and four rebounds off of six three pointers in 35 minutes of action. Matthew Hodgson had a decent night off the bench with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Drmic put up 11 points. Competing in his 200th consecutive game spanning back to his debut 2011/12 season with the Gold Coast Blaze, Jason Cadee accumulated 11 points and six assists.

With both rosters concluding their NBL Cup runs, Sydney will head home to Qudos Bank Arena to host Melbourne United opening up Round 10 in what is always an entertaining matchup. For Brisbane, they will suit up the following night to host the New Zealand Breakers.

Picture credit: AAP

Cotton and Mooney star in Perth’s grand final rematch

IT was a scoring fiasco for Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats however it was the latter that walked away with the “W” (113-106). Both sides came to play with their intensity up from the first few minutes of basketball as they looked to attack the rim and claim some much needed ascendancy to close out Round 6 of the National Basketball League (NBL).

In their first meeting since the 2020 grand final the rivalry well and truly came to the fore as the two sides battled bragging rights with the Kings coming up big in the opening term of play. Although Perth slotted the first points of the game Sydney seemed to have the game on their terms as the quarter went on with Casper Ware putting on a vintage performance and inspiring the Kings each step of the way. Holding a six-point lead at quarter time, Perth worked in overdrive to cut the deficit and get back in the game piling on 30 points while limiting the Kings to 26. Shutting down their movement and looking to attack the basket more regularly Perth were able to generate some strong momentum with Bryce Cotton stepping up to the plate.

With only two points separating the two sides, it was clear that this game was going to go down to the wire and while neither the Wildcats or Kings have had the same dominance they did last year they were eager to recapture some form. An excellent term of basketball from Perth was all they needed to not only steal the lead but create a handy buffer. John Mooney was the key instigator of change for the Wildcats nailing a layup to commence play and maintained that level of intensity throughout the term. Letting loose with 32 points to 17 Perth went into the final change up by 13 points and did not look like letting go despite Ware making his presence felt for the Kings. Sydney worked their way back into the contest playing with a sense of freedom and determination but could not do enough to topple the Wildcats who had built a strong foundation in the third to run out victorious.

Statistically speaking it was hard to split the two sides with Sydney sitting at 51 per cent from the field and Perth at 50 per cent and while they both boasted a 40 per cent accuracy from beyond the arc the Wildcats managed 15 triples compared to 14. Perth showcased their strength off the boards outmuscling their opponents to collect 46 rebounds to 32 while their natural game plan of sharing the ball around was also on display amassing 26 assists to 14. Although they fell short of the win the Kings proved to be more cautious with ball in hand only recording six turnovers to eight and also registered one more block (4-3). Majority of Sydney’s points came from in the paint knocking back 42 while the Wildcats put up 34.

It was the Casper Ware show for Sydney with the guard running amuck and posting a team-high 34 points going at 100 per cent from the charity stripe and 52 per cent from the field. Ware was involved in just about everything for the Kings picking up five rebounds and four assists. Didi Louzada was the next biggest contributor for Sydney piling on 19 points and making his presence felt from down town with five triples. Dejan Vasiljevic and Thomas Vodanovich also proved to be handy figures collecting 13 and 10 points respectively while also dragging down four rebounds apiece.

With Ware doing it up one end for the Kings, Cotton flexed his muscles with 30 points and fell just short of a double-double credit to his nine assists. But teammate, Mooney did manage to reach this feat with a staggering 18 rebounds and 30 points to well and truly wow the opposition. Mooney was virtually unstoppable in defence with 16 of his 18 rebounds defensive while also coming up with two blocks. Todd Blanchfield was a consistent figure throughout the match producing 17 points, three rebounds and two assists as Mitchell Norton did not muck around thanks to his 10 points and eight rebounds.

Overcoming a half time deficit is never easy as Perth Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson pointed out post-match, touting the impressive effort the side put in to flip the script.

“I thought it was a really gutsy win especially with how well they were shooting the ball in the first half. We had to wrestle that momentum back and I thought we did that just before half time I think about five minutes to go then we got it back to two points at half time so we built some momentum for the third quarter,” Gleeson said.

Dejan and Ware pair up to conquer 36ers, combine for 55

EACH quarter had a different leader up until the final buzzer on Sunday afternoon, as both the Sydney Kings and the Adelaide 36ers traded scoring runs for 30 minutes straight. But, it was the Kings that outlasted their opponents in the last period of play, securing a well-earned 94-77 outcome against the Purple and Gold.

With 52 points between the two sides scored in the opening term, the contest started at a really high pace to begin with. Unexpectedly, it was the combination of Thomas Vodanovich and Casper Ware that got the Kings off the ground, as the New Zealand international got his season up and going with eight first quarter points.

As Sydney led 30-22 at the end of one, Adelaide needed to produce positive outcomes on the floor and fast, before the game would get out of hand early on. Import Tony Crocker was the man for the job in the second quarter with an impressive bounce back effort after a sluggish start.

Crocker led the way with 13 points, two rebounds and two assists, as the 36ers won the second quarter 29-18 and took a three-point lead at half-time adding to Sydney’s stresses. But the work of Dejan Vasiljevic and Ware was more than enough of a precedent to give the Kings the confidence to overtake Adelaide with a good second half coupled with their 54 per cent shooting in the first two quarters.

In what proved to be a seesawing affair, the Kings quickly turned the odds in their favour by scoring 17 of the first 21 points in the first six minutes of the third period, returning the lead back to last season’s runners ups.

Continuing their good form from the first half, Ware and Vasiljevic maintained their steady flow of points as each held 21 points apiece with 10 minutes remaining, while the Kings completely shut down Adelaide’s offence, conceding just eight points in the third.

The lead would fail to change hands in the final stanza and end in rather one-sided fashion, with the Kings toppling the 36ers in the fourth quarter alone, 21-13, leading into Sydney’s solid 17-point win without Jarell Martin in their line-up.

Capitalising on Adelaide’s 16 turnovers, Sydney compiled 22 points by way of takeaways and 32 points from their effective bench unit. In addition, the Kings would make more shots than they would miss, shooting 51 per cent on the afternoon compared to the 36ers’ 42 per cent.

A quiet final period for Vasiljevic and Ware saw the duo finish with similar numbers to when they concluded the third period. Vasiljevic performed at a consistently high rate with 22 points, while Ware’s 23-point game saw him return to an elite level that has only reared its head a few times in NBL21. Yesterday also saw veteran player Daniel Kickert put up solid numbers in his first game of the season with 11 points and three triples.

Four Adelaide players scored 10 points or more with Crocker leading the team with 15 points and three rebounds. Meanwhile, Isaac Humphries (14 points and six rebounds), Sunday Dech (13 points, five assists and three rebounds) and Josh Giddey (10 points, seven assists and seven rebounds) were all major footnotes in their team’s defeat.

Adelaide will look to regain lost footing in the top four when they face the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Tuesday night, and prior to that the Kings aim to tackle down a Perth Wildcats side that is eager to get their season back on track.

NBL21 season previews: Sydney Kings

ARGUABLY the best performing side during the 2019/20 regular season, the Sydney Kings have perhaps the biggest level of motivation going into NBL21, despite not finding championship glory in last year’s Grand Final series.

Finishing a game above the eventual reigning champion Perth Wildcats after 28 regular season outings and a record of 20 wins and eight losses, many had the Kings as heavy-handed favourites given their form heading into finals. Unfortunately, this was not the case for former gaffer Will Weaver’s playing list. Later on, some key departures during the Free Agency period have made Sydney’s plans to work their way back to the top-four slightly more difficult.

With Australian basketball legend Andrew Bogut announcing his retirement recently, the Kings will be without a key component in the frontcourt and on the defensive end. Furthermore, the omission of Kevin Lisch from this season’s roster will also mean a major hit to the team’s leadership structure, but not necessarily for the worse, as many more returning players will look to step it up into more prominent roles.

Key pickups for Sydney in the offseason domestically came by way of two up and coming prospects ready to hit the ground running. 23-year-old Dejan Vasiljevic has made his return back home to Australia after a successful collegiate career at the University of Miami, while 22-year-old Angus Glover has made a less sizeable move from Illawarra to the big city.

In what will be his fifth season in the NBL and his second campaign in Sydney, Casper Ware returns as an import for last season’s runners-ups after leading the team in points (19.7 per game) and assists (3.7 per game) and being selected to the league’s All-NBL Second Team at the conclusion of the fixture in 2020. The second of the Kings’ two imports is Louisiana native Jarell Martin, a former member of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Orlando Magic (192 games and 40 starts) in the NBA.

Other internationals to arrive to Sydney this season include the returning Next Stars nominee Didi Louzada, who averaged a respectable 10.3 points per contest in NBL20 and contributed a substantial amount to last season’s outfit in his rookie year, and reigning NZNBL MVP and member of the Manawatu Jets, Thomas Vodanovich, who transfers from the New Zealand Breakers for his sophomore season in the Australian counterpart of New Zealand’s top league.

Familiar faces predominantly round out the remainder of new head coach Adam Forde’s side. Brad Newley prepares for his fifth season at the Kings, veteran Daniel Kickert arrives for his third fixture with the side and Shaun Bruce gets ready to undertake his seventh NBL season (second at Sydney). Additional individuals to return to the franchise such as Jordan Hunter, Craig Moller and Xavier Cooks will also wear the Purple and Gold in NBL21.

Harbouring an abundance of coaching experience, Forde certainly knows the formula to winning NBL titles after playing a pivotal role within the coaching staff during the Wildcats’ 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 championships. However, only time will tell if the squad he has assembled this time around holds that “special” combination of physical and mental talent.

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: #3 – Vodanovich drops 43 to conclude MVP season

MANAWATU’s star forward and eventual Most Valuable Player of the NZNBL 2020 season, Thomas Vodanovich had an action packed campaign, as he led his side to a grand final appearance with multiple impressive outings.

These included a dominant 25-point and 12-rebound performance against the Rams, multiple 28-point performances (including the grand final) and a 38-point masterclass in the second game of the season against the Huskies. But his best individual performance came at the very end of the regular season against the Franklin Bulls.

The multiple-time Tall Black’s display against the Bulls in late-July was so impressive, he outperformed teammate and statistical gatherer Hyrum Harris in the plus-minus statistic by more than 10 and for this, features as number three in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the Jets and Vodanovich’s full match report against the Bulls – Click HERE

Prior to their tipoff in the season closer, the Jets had a lot at stake, as a loss against Franklin would mean losing their qualifying final slot and a chance to gain a trip straight to the prelims. So, it was apparent to Tim McTamney’s squad that they needed to start off strong, and who better to help get that going than their first-round pick and captain.

Funnily enough, Vodanovich got the scoring going, opening up the contest with the game’s first points. But, the rest of his starting five proved pivotal in allowing Manawatu to obtain a double-digit lead heading into quarter time. Harris, Jayden Bezzant and Taane Samuel each contributed to the scoring load in the opening 10 minutes, but the main man was still yet to catch fire putting up eight points in that time (four of which came from free throws).

But all notions of Vodanovich having a quiet night were quickly dashed, as he went on a three-point tear, knocking down four consecutive threes for his side and putting up 12 of his team’s first 14 points in the second term. He hit home with a fifth triple, three minutes later finishing off a 17-point second quarter and extending his team’s advantage to 15 points at the main break.

For the majority of the third quarter, Vodanovich’s teammates held down the fort, keeping the Bulls at bay. As the combination of Dominique Kelman-Poto and Jackson Stubbins failed to cut significantly into their deficit. Four minutes in, Vodanovich found his first points of the second half making four free throws in a row, which was promptly followed by a triple as a result of Nicholas Fee rebound. The three mentioned would prompt another scoring run, as he found the target on two more attempts and brought his total from behind the arc to eight. Heading into the final break, Vodanovich had already compiled an unbelievable 37 points.

With the final term underway a minute and a half later, Vodanovich topped his season high and cracked the 40-point mark with his ninth three-pointer of the contest, thanks to a Harris assist. But feeling good and with fresh legs, the sharpshooter continued into the sixth minute of the final quarter, and after nailing his tenth triple exited the game.

Despite a late charge from the Bulls, it was nothing more than a formality, as the Jets ran away with the matchup 99-84, earning the win after a monumental effort from their leader and talisman.

Vodanovich summarised his night with 43 points (a career-high), 11 rebounds and a few assists to round out his 34 minutes of court time. Harris also had a respectable night, racking up numbers as usual with nine points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Whereas Samuel (16), Fee (12) and Bezzant (10) got into double digits.

A career night that saw Vodanovich help his side to a top-two spot to finish the season, it is no wonder why his 43-point performance finishes so high on Draft Central’s list.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #4 – Otago baffles Manawatu with 130-point display

WHILE the end result of the Otago Nuggets and the Manawatu Jets ended in a blowout, both teams put on phenomenal scoring totals. But in their second of five encounters throughout the 2020 NZNBL season, the Nuggets strung together perhaps the most dominant display of basketball across all fixtures this year securing the number four spot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the season.

For the full match report between the Nuggets and the Jets – Click HERE

Heading into the contest, neither of the eventual grand finalists were yet to establish themselves as a serious top-two team. The Nuggets had only a modest .500 record with three wins and three losses to their name. Meanwhile for the Jets, they sat just half a game above Otago, earning four wins to this point thanks to an extra-game 30-point win over the Nelson Giants in their last outing.

Both sides would ensue in a back and forth opening period, as Manawatu’s newly signed wingman Nelson Kirksey got his stroke going early to open up proceedings. But Otago emerged with the more aggressive style of play by pushing the floor and attacking the rim, which in turn forced three early Jets turnovers and created a 12-5 lead as a result.

However, a late run of points from center Taane Samuel and guard Haize Walker tied the score with less than a minute to go in the first. Two free-throws in the dwindling moments of the opening term from Jordan Hunt were responsible for the Nuggets’ two-point lead at the opening break, but the good shooting from both sides of the aisle continued well into the second quarter.

Otago once again got out to an early advantage, pulling away with another 12-5 scoring run. Unsurprisingly however, Thomas Vodanovich became the main focus point for Brent Matehaere’s side. As the multi-time Tall-Black started to catch fire in an impressive first half, managing to convert four of his seven attempts, with three of them triples as the Jets trailed by just a single point after 20 minutes.

The Nuggets decided they needed a different approach if they were to pull away from a persistent Jets outfit and through the deep ball, Otago found a solution. Creating a quick 8-0 run, the team from Dunedin got themselves out to a comfortable double-digit lead and began a dominant one-sided second half in turn.

Otago shot a ridiculous 56 per cent from the field in an authoritative third term, as the lead quickly grew out of control. Outscoring the Jets 38-23 in the championship period, Tim McTamney’s side needed drastic measures if they were to claw their way back from a 16-point deficit in the final quarter. Ashton McQueen started the fourth off in good spirits knocking down a lead-off three, but when Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil started to heat up, there was nothing that the Jets could come up with to slow down the South Island onslaught that was the Nuggets’ second half.

Otago pushed all the way to the finish line, outscoring Manawatu 35-15 in the concluding 10 minutes, capping off a 73-point performance in the latter two periods of the game and gliding away with the 130-94 demolition of the Jets.

Collectively for the Jets, both Jayden Bezzant and Vodanovich led the way for their side with 18 points apiece, but five different individuals for the Nuggets reached double digits. Keil’s game-high 29 points, six rebounds and four assists led the way for Otago, as Ngatai and Hunt combined for a massive 55-point haul.

As a team, the victors completed their performance with a script of impressive stats. Firstly, they concluded their shooting with a 57 per cent accuracy rate, going 47 from 82 on the floor. Otago managed to knock down 14 triples and 22 free-throws, and lastly, a plus-six on the boards and a plus-10 in assists would round out the highest scoring performance from a team all season. Furthermore, the Jets’ 94 points of their own helped bring the overall total of the game to 224, the largest points total in a contest form both troops all season long.

A lot went right for both sides in this high scoring affair, but the Nuggets put the rest of the league on notice with the 130-point effort against the Jets. For this masterclass at both ends of the floor, there’s no arguing that this moment slots in at number four in Draft Central’s list.