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2021 NZNBL team review: Wellington Saints

IN the wake of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) coming to a close over the weekend, Draft Central will run through each of the 10 competing sides to look at the key stats and players of the 2021 season. The series concludes with Wellington Saints.

SEASON SUMMARY:

Position: 1st
Wins: 18
Losses: 2

KEY STATS:

Points: 96.2 (1st)
Rebounds: 36 (5th)
Assists: 17.8 (3rd)
Steals: 8.7 (1st)
Blocks: 3.7 (eq. 1st)
Field Goal %: 51.3 (1st)

KEY PLAYERS:

Dion Prewster

The captain led from the front all season and put up team-highs in points (18.2) and assists (5.0) to be crowned the NZNBL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). His overall consistent effort – which also included 5.6 rebounds (third from the Saints) and 1.4 steals (second), showed he was able to accumulate stats across the board. He shot at 34.2 per cent from outside the arc, and 55.4 per cent from in it, doing most of his damage there and forcing his way to the foul line. He finished off at 82.9 per cent when shooting free throws to worry the opposition. Prewster only had single-digit points twice in the season, and both came with less than 20 minutes on court. In the overtime thriller against Hawkes Bay Hawks, Prewster put up 34 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, whilst earning himself a triple-double in the first semi-final. There, he managed 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a remarkable effort that capped off a year where he had four games of 30-plus points.

Taane Samuel

The other All-Star 5 member for the 2021 season was Samuel, who was able to impress out of the front court, averaging 16.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. He shot at 43.8 per cent from outside the arc in a deadly accurate display, and 54.8 per cent from the field, showcasing his overall shooting characteristics. He earned a spot on the All-Star side for his accuracy, but also averaged 1.5 steals per game. After a quiet couple of games to start the season, Samuel only had two more games in single-digits, with eight games recording 20-plus points, including the grand final (26). His season-high came against Hawkes Bay Hawks mid-season when he put up 33 points and four rebounds, showing he was the Hawks’ Achilles heal.

Kerwin Roach Jr

Seemingly underrated all season, Roach Jr was the only Saints player to score double-figure points in every single match. He had 20-plus points in six matches, of which four of those came in the last month of the season. He averaged the second most points (17.7), rebounds (5.9) and assists (4.3) in his side, as well as the most steals (1.7) to be a terrific asset for the premiers. He only shot at 33 per cent from long-range which hurt a little, but he had such a high-volume of shots, he was always able to put up big numbers. Roach Jr further put an exclamation mark on his season, with a 16-point, seven-rebound and three-assist game in the grand final to earn the match’s MVP honour.

Tohi Smith-Milner

Coming out of the five spot, Smith-Milner was a menace for opposition sides, leading the Saints for rebounds (6.8) but still putting up plenty of points (14.5) to be fourth overall on his side. He was the fourth player (with the three above) to play – and start – in all 20 games, which made him very difficult to contain. Shooting at 34,4 per cent from outside the arc, Smith-Milner was able to hit his free throws when he went to the line (75.4 per cent) and was at greater than half of his field goal attempts (52.9 per cent). He only dipped into single digits five times, including in the first two games, but unfortunately two of them were in the last three games, including a nine-point grand final. He stepped up in a big way against his former team Auckland Huskies in the first final however, putting up 30 points and nine rebounds in a season-high for him. His best game came against Taranaki Mountainairs on July 2, recording a massive 25 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two steals in that win over the bottom side.

OTHERS:

Two other big men who had the next most points traditionally coming off the bench were Leon Henry (9.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals) and Romaro Gill (8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks), while Troy McLean took the court in every game starting on the bench, for 4.3 points and 1.4 rebounds from limited minutes.

SUMMARY:

There is not much to say for the Wellington Saints given their success of winning the 2021 NZNBL premiership tells the story. The minor premiers became the overall premiers, dropping just two games in total on their way to glory with four players starting every game, and consistency that was crucial throughout the year.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Dozen it feel good? Wellington Saints claim 12th NZNBL title

WELLINGTON Saints have claimed their twelfth New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) title in one of the most thrilling finishes to a decider. Leading by two points in the dying moments against Hawkes Bay Hawks, a turnover was stolen by the Hawks, raced up the other end, but unable to get a clean look and safely captured by the Saints to hold on as the buzzer sounded for a two-point win. 77-75.

The top of the table Saints looked like they were going to storm to a dominant win early, taking the lead from the get-go and racing to a 12-point advantage at the first break. That was not indicative of what the Te Rauparaha Arena crowd was about to witness however, as the second placed Hawks began to claw their way back into the contest. Getting it back to as little as a one possession game late in the second term, the Hawks headed into the ain break with a 25-19 quarter win, and a six-point deficit on the scoreboard.

That momentum swing continued into the second half as the Hawks completely stagnated the usually free-flowing Saints attack, keeping Wellington to just nine points in the third quarter and piled on 19 themselves to lead by a team-high lead of four points. That lead extended out to six early in the fourth and it looked like an upset might be brewing. As they had all year though, the Saints found a way and dug deep to quickly make up the difference. There were eight lead changes in the final term, with the nail-biting finish one to savour.

Tohi Smith-Milner handed the Saints the lead with three minutes remaining, and Taane Samuel – who beat a tribunal charge to play on the night – added a long-range bomb for a four-point lead. Rhys Vague returned serve with layups either side of another Smith-Milner fadeaway and the difference was just two points with 37 remaining on the clock. The experience of Leon Henry came into the game.

With possession the Saints just needed to hold onto it, as Samuel had a three-point attempt which was rebounded, but then a Kerwin Roach Jr pass under pressure almost proved costly as Devondrick Walker read it well and raced up the other end. To his credit, Roach Jr forced the body contact as Walker drove to the basket and the buzzer sounded with the ball missing.

The Saints were yet again the more efficient team on the night, putting up 50 per cent of their attempts, despite shooting at a lower 25 per cent from range for just seven of 27. It was still enough to be better than the Hawks (three of 18 at 16 per cent efficiency). They were beaten in the rebounds (42-31) but won the assists (14-13), steals (6-5) and blocks (8-5) all narrowly. To the Hawks’ credit they threw everything at the Saints, and had one less turnover (9-10) which resulted in more points from turnovers (17-13). They also had more second chance points (17-4) and bench points (10-6) in an overall strong performance.

Roach Jr won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) on the biggest stage, scoring 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in the win. Captain Dion Prewster led from the front putting up 15 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks, and was the only player to fill the full 40 minutes on court. Samuel made the most of his chance being able to play, putting up a team-high 26 points, while Smith-Milner (nine points, four assists, four blocks and three rebounds) was also solid despite inaccuracy.

For the Hawks, Walker had a match-high 31 points and seven rebounds, being the only player to score from long-range with three of eight. Hyrum Harris (22 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks) picked up a double-double for his troubles in what would be his second successive NZNBL Grand Final loss, whilst Vague (eight points, six rebounds) and Derone Raukawa (eight points, two rebounds) also picked up some important points.

It was a memorable decider and the best team for the regular season and on the night lifted the trophy, but not without a real challenge from the Hawks who came so close to glory.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Dominant second half sees Saints storm into 2021 NZNBL Grand Final

WELLINGTON Saints lived up to their minor premiership billing with an eye-catching semi-final win on night one of the Final Four in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL). The top of the table Wellington Saints took care of the fourth placed Auckland Huskies for the second time in as many weeks, claiming a 26-point victory with a dominant second half. Despite some resistance in the second term from the Huskies, the depth of the Saints proved too great and the ladder leaders secured the big win, and their third over the Huskies to advanced through to the 2021 NZNBL Grand Final.

In the first semi-final of the night, Auckland Huskies stormed to an early eight-point lead at the first break. Looking to grab yet another huge win, they were shocked in the second term as Auckland Huskies produced their most dominant quarter performance against the title favourites, piling on 31-17 in the second term to not only hit back, but take the lead by six points at the main break. With an upset brewing, the Saints knew just what to do, hitting back early in the third term, they put the foot down and blew the Huskies away with a dominant 30-8 third term to all but secure the win. Not taking any chances, Wellington continued to press with another huge quarter in the fourth term, putting up 25 points to 15 to run away with the 99-73 win.

Wellington led all the key statistics, shooting at 55 per cent to the Huskies’ 45 per cent, also draining a whopping 17 triples to eight, and completely outclassing their lower ranked opponents in the rebounds (39-29) and assists (24-6) categories. The Saints also won the steals (5-4), blocks (4-0), points in the paint (42-38) and second chance points, whilst the Huskies had four more turnovers (15-11), but somehow managed to score more from turnovers (13-10).

Tohi Smith-Milner won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the match with a team-high 30 points, as well as nine rebounds, hitting four of nine from long-range. That effort was pretty impressive considering teammate and league MVP Dion Prewster recorded a triple-double in the final. The Saints captain notched up 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the victory, but the fact Smith-Milner only spent 27 minutes on court for his 30 and nine, was a remarkable effort. Kerwin Roach Jr (24 points, seven assists and five rebounds) and Leon Henry (11 points, seven rebounds) were other double-figure scorers.

For the Huskies, Tom Vodanovich hit a match-high 33 points in the loss, also collecting seven rebounds for his troubles. Rising star Zach Riley stepped up to assist with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists, while fellow teenager Dontae Nance returned to the side for 10 points, three steals and two rebounds, but the supporting roles would not be enough for the Huskies to cause a monumental upset.

Wellington Saints will now take on the second placed Hawkes Bay Hawks in the 2021 NZNBL Grand Final tonight, in a bid to win yet another flag, having taken out the 2019 title, the last season the Saints competed in the competition.

Photo credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

2021 NZNBL Semi-Finals preview: Final Four tips off tonight

TEN teams started in the 2021 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), and just four remain after 13 weeks of top notch basketball action decided the final four which tips off tonight. Held at Te Rauparaha Arena over two consecutive nights, the four semi-finalists will face off in two do-or-die matches tonight, with the winner of each semi-final progressing through to tomorrow night’s grand final. The four teams in contention are Wellington Saints, Hawkes Bay Hawks, Southland Sharks and Auckland Huskies who remain in the hunt for premiership glory.

WELLINGTON SAINTS vs. AUCKLAND HUSKIES
Thursday, July 22 @ 6pm
Te Rauparaha Arena

Up first are the minor premiers, Wellington Saints taking on fourth placed Auckland Huskies for the opening spot in the 2021 NZNBL Grand Final. The Saints finished on top with 16 wins from 18 matches, clearly the benchmark team ranked first in overall points and first in least points conceded making them an easy favourite for the overall title. In nine matches at home, the Saints did not lose, and their 7-2 record on the road was pretty imposing as well. For the Huskies, they secured their final four spot in the penultimate round, winning 11 games from 18 matches, including a 5-4 record at home, and a 6-3 record on the road, making travelling no fear for the side.

Fans do not have to look too far back to see the last time these sides faced off, with the Round 12 match just five days earlier and the Saints coming away with a 24-point win, 85-61. Captain and League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Dion Prewster went to work putting up 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in that game, well aided by Taane Samuel (20 points, four rebounds and two assists). For the Huskies, Justin Bibbs (18 points, nine rebounds and four assists) and Tom Vodanovich (17 points, 10 rebounds and two assists) were the two key players. In their only other encounter back on May 28, Wellington Saints easily accounted for the Huskies by 31 points in a 107-76 victory.

In terms of the key statistics, the Saints average almost 11 points more per game (97.1 to 86.2) and concede nine points less (76.7 to 85.4). Their shooting percentage is higher from inside and outside the arc, and from the free throw line, they have more rebounds and assists per match. In particular, the Saints are great at second chance opportunities, grabbing an average of 11 offensive rebounds per game. They can also win the ball back in transition, recording nine steals per game to the Huskies’ 7.2. In saying that, the Huskies are generally good with ball-in-hand, only committing the 11.8 turnovers per game, less than the Saints’ 12.9.

With Chris Johnson back in the United States and teenage talent Dontae Nance injured, the Huskies have looked to Bibbs and the returned Vodanovich as the key players. Vodanovich has averaged the 20.3 points and 78 rebounds per game, teaming up well with Bibbs (18.0 and 5.3) in that sense. Brook Ruscoe-Taiaroa (10.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists) and Zach Riley (10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists) are others who have stepped up in the absence of key players. Riley in particular has had a memorable season, winning the Youth Player of the Year.

The Saints on the other hand have no shortage of stars, with Prewster (18.7 points, 4.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds) voted the best player in the NZNBL this season. Kerwin Roach Jr (17.4 points, 4.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds) has also been outstanding, whilst Samuel (16.6 points) is also an All-Star 5 this season, and Tohi Smith-Milner (13.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists) has been outstanding throughout. When weighing up the two sides, it is hard to look past Wellington Saints who have been the best side all year, have very few flaws and an outstanding starting five that should get the job done yet again.

HAWKES BAY HAWKS vs. SOUTHLAND SHARKS
Thursday, July 22 @ 8pm
Te Rauparaha Arena

Once the winner of the first semi-final is decided, it is straight onto the other match with a blockbuster second against third clash. Hawkes Bay Hawks and Southland Sharks both come in with 13-5 records from this season, and were as evenly poised as any to go head-to-head in this match. The Hawks did not lose a match at home in nine outings, including toppling both the Sharks and Wellington Saints, whilst their road record was a little more shaky with a 4-5 record. The Sharks were not as dominant at home but still recorded seven wins from nine matches, whilst also having six from nine away from home.

The most recent encounter between these sides was not so close, with the Hawks coming away with a comfortable 97-71 win on the road. In what was only the Sharks second loss on the road – after a one-point overtime defeat at the hands of Auckland Huskies in the last match at ILT Stadium – the Hawks stormed to a 26-point victory. In an even team performance, five players had double-figure points for the Hawks, with Jordan Hunt (21 points, four assists and two rebounds) and Derone Raukawa (17 points, four assists and three rebounds) leading the way in the win. For the Sharks, Dom Kelman-Poto was a one-man wrecking ball with 27 points, four rebounds and two assists, whilst Joshua Cunningham put up 13 points, eight rebounds and two assists. In their earlier encounter back on May 8, the Hawks came away with a closer 12-point win at Pettigrew Green Arena, 85-73.

In terms of individuals, Kelman Poto is the sole member of the All-Star 5 in this match, with the Hawks having an overall balanced lineup. Looking at the key team stats, the Hawks are marginally ahead in points per game (93.2 to 91.3), and have conceded marginally less points to their opposition (83.4 to 84.3). The Sharks are a marginally better shooting team from inside the arc (56.1 to 55.7 per cent), though neither team could be split from outside it, with 36.9 per cent, and the Hawks hitting 1.3 additional three-pointers per game. Off the boards it is the Hawks who lead the way (37.7 to 36.9), whilst the Sharks are ahead in the assists (19.8 to 18.7) and steals (8.3 to 8.2), whilst also having less turnovers (12.0 to 13.1).

Having played every game for the Hawks, Hyrum Harris has been a rock across the court, able to impact in a multitude of ways on his way to an average of 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.1 steals. Leading the team for points, Devondrick Walker has put up 20.2 points. 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals in an impressive effort, whilst Ethan Rusbatch managed the 17.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. The depth of the Hawks is ultra-impressive, with Hunt (12.7 points, 4.6 rebounds), Raukawa (12.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals) and Rhys Vague (12.2 points, 6.9 rebounds) also averaging double-figure points.

Kelman-Poto’s All-Star 5 season came about from his 17.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, shooting an a high 57 per cent from the field. He worked well starting every game with Cunningham (14.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists), whilst three others reached double-figure point averages. Courtney Belger (12.3 points. 5.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals), Brayden Inger (14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists) and Alonzo Burton (13.1 points. 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals) all played 17 or games this year showing great durability.

This game is hard to split, but with the Hawks having won both their previous encounters, the scale tips in their favour, but it could genuinely go either way given the stars on display in this contest.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Saints grab mental edge over Huskies as Rams finish season on high

TOP of the table Wellington Saints have grabbed the mental edge over Auckland Huskies in an impressive New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) win last night, whilst Canterbury Rams ended their season on a high with a good win over Otago Nuggets. Ahead of their do-or-die semi-final clash on Thursday night, the Saints will look for much of the same against the Huskies after the last regular season day win of 85-61. Meanwhile the Rams’ 17-point win over Otago Nuggets saw them leapfrog the Nuggets into fifth.

Wellington Saints powered away early against the Huskies, putting on a 10-point lead to show why they were well positioned ahead of the Final Four. The Huskies were not going to go away however, with the fourth placed side winning the second term 21-17, and cutting the deficit back to six at half-time. Wellington really took control after the main break however, putting the foot down with 41 points to 23 to win, 85-61.

Wellington was the more accurate of the teams, shooting at a 48 per cent clip from the field compared to the Huskies’ 39 per cent, also hitting two more threes (11-9), albeit at a lower efficiency (32 to 36 per cent). The Saints also had more assists (12-10), steals (7-4), and points in the paint (42-22), as well as less turnovers (7-17) and therefore more points from turnover (16-5). The Huskies on the other hand had more rebounds (39-33) and blocks (3-1), and also marginally more second chance points (10-9) and bench points (18-16).

It was an even Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting with Dion Prewster eventually getting the nod for his game-high 23 points, as well as nine rebounds and eight assists in an almost triple-double effort for the Saints. Taane Samuel put up 20 points, four rebounds and two assists in an equally impressive effort, shooting three of six from long-range. Kerwin Roach Jr (10 points, four rebounds and two steals) and Ken Tuffin (11 points, three of six from beyond the arc) were other Saints who hit double-figures.

Auckland Huskies had two clear standouts, with one double-double and another almost double-double. Justin Bibbs (18 points, nine rebounds and four assists) was strong across the game, whilst Tom Vodanovich was rewarded with a double-double of 17 points, 10 rebounds and two assists. Takiula Fahrensohn had 10 points and four rebounds coming off the bench in the other player to reach double-figure points.

In the other match, Canterbury Rams grabbed fourth spot in the dead rubber clash against Otago Nuggets, winning three of the four quarters on their way to a 17-point triumph. The first term was a high-scoring contest of 56 points, as the Rams edged ahead by two with a 29-27 term, also adding five more points to the lead to be up by seven at half-time. Level in the third term, Canterbury put the foot down in the final stanza to pile on 30-20 and run away with the contest, 101-84.

Canterbury won most of the statistics with a higher field goal percentage (50-42), and also had more rebounds (43-34), steals (9-6), points in the paint (52-24) and second chance points (16-7), as well as less turnovers (10-15) and more points from turnovers (20-15). Auckland had more blocks (3-2) and bench points (28-25) in the loss.

Deshon Taylor won MVP with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists in the Rams’ victory, with four other players hitting double-digit points. Max Darling (17 points, six rebounds and three steals), Jack Salt (16 points, seven rebounds), Quintin Bailey (13 points, two rebounds and two assists) and EJ Singler (10 points, six rebounds and six assists) were the others to achieve the feat.

Luke Aston (23 points) and Richie Rodger (22) both had a couple of rebounds, but it was Sam Timmins once again who stormed to 20 rebounds – 17 defensive to keep the Nuggets in the contest, and also finish with eight points, three blocks and two assists. Isaiah Moss also reached double-figure points with 13 points, three assists and two rebounds.

 

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Saints obliterate Bulls in 60-point thrashing

RECORDS were broken left, right and centre in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) last night as top of the table Wellington Saints showed no signs of slowing down with a 60-point shellacking of Franklin Bulls. The Saints surprisingly only one three of the four quarters, and one of those by three points, but the two ones they won at either end were by a combined 58 points on their way to a 125-65 win.

It was easily the biggest win of the season, and the last quarter differential of 35 the most as well, plus the 46 total points in the term. It all started with a dominant 38-15 opening term which set the tone for the night as the title favourites did as they pleased. Surprisingly, the Bulls managed to stem in the bleeding in the middle two terms as they actually won the second quarter, and only lost the third by three points for a total last break differential of 26.

In the past, the team on top has often taken the foot off the pedal in the final term with the game beyond doubt, but Wellington was no ordinary team. The Saints piled on a whopping 46 points to 11 in the most one-sided quarter of the year to run out 125-65 winners in ridiculous fashion. They dropped 29 triples – 87 points alone – as they almost exclusively destroyed the Bulls from long-range.

The stats were unsurprisingly all in the way of the Saints, as they 29 of 53 from beyond the arc a clear record, as they recorded a total field goal percentage of 53 per cent. They only hit 14 shots from inside the arc – three less than the Bulls, but Franklin could only drain six of 28 from beyond the arc at 21 per cent. The mounting pressure to hit long-range jumpers to try and chew into the deficit was evident.

Despite the rebounds being even at 41-apiece, the Saints dominated the assists (30-7), steals (13-6) and had far less turnovers (9-23). This aided them in having more points from turnovers (39-8), more second chance points (17-14) and bench points (50-19) in what was a heavily rotated side during the big win.

Kerwin Roach Jr won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award with 29 points – four of nine from long-range – seven assists and five rebounds. He had plenty of supporters though, as Leon Henry was ridiculous coming off the bench with seven triples – more than the entire Bulls side – for 24 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two assists. Ken Tuffin had 17 points – draining all five three-point attempts – and two rebound, while Tohi Smith-Milner finished with 15 points –  and also had a perfect four from four from beyond the arc – as well as five rebound and four assists.

Taane Samuel joined in the party with three of seven from long-range to go towards his 12 points, while Rangimarie Dougall-Mita had nine points – three of six from long-range – and two rebounds off the bench in 15 minutes. Ezrah Vaigafa (seven points, seven assists and six rebounds) and Troy McLean (six points, four assists) also picked up more than five points in the record-breaking victory.

For the Bulls, the box score was not as kind, with Isaac Davidson trying his hardest on the way to a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, hitting two of five from long-range, and picking up three of his team’s six steals. Jett Thompson (11 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Manel Ayol (10 points, five rebounds) also reached double-figure points, while Zach Easthope had six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench for Franklin

Unfortunately for the Bulls, they will need to stew on the result until next season, whilst for the Saints, not only do they have finals action coming up, but they also have another clash tonight, taking on Auckland Huskies on the road.

 

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Saints secure top spot with another big win

WELLINGTON Saints will head into the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Final Four as the team to beat, securing top spot on the ladder following a 17-point triumph over the Otago Nuggets. Whilst the Nuggets were not in finals contention after Auckland Huskies wrapped up the last spot in the post-season series last night, they have been largely competitive throughout the 2021 season. That was again the case for the most part, with a last quarter dominance from the home team seeing the eventual final margin out to 17, 102-85.

Wellington started strongly knowing the Saints needed just one more win to secure the minor premiership ahead of the post-season series which starts in just over a week. They lead by six points at quarter time after a 25-19 first term, before the Nuggets cut into the deficit by one with a high-scoring second term with a combined 61 points scored (31-30 in favour of the visitors). The Saints extended their lead out to seven by the final break with a 21-19 third quarter, then put the foot down as they so often have this season, piling on 26 points to 16 in the last to blow out the game and run out comfortable winners.

Wellington controlled the majority of the key statistics, shooting at an accurate 57 per cent compared to the Nuggets’ fairly impressive 53 per cent. Whilst Otago led a low rebound count (36-27) and had more second chance points (17-9) because of it, all the other key stats went the way of the home team. The Saints had more assists (17-11), dominated the steals (14-3) and blocks (7-2), as well as more points in the paint (54-40), points from turnovers (26-15) and bench points (19-13).

Kerwin Roach Jr won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) honour for 27 points, four rebounds, four assists, five steals and three blocks in an all-round effort for the Saints. Combining well with Roach was Taane Samuel who managed the 23 points – five of nine from long-range – and five rebounds. Dion Prewster (13 points, five assists, three rebounds and two blocks) and Tohi Smith-Milner (12 points, three rebounds and three steals) held their own from the starters, whilst Troy McLean managed 10 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes coming off the bench.

For the Nuggets, Gerasimos McKay had a team-high 25 points – three of four from long-range – as well as six rebounds and two assists. Isaiah Moss (23 points, three rebounds and two assists) and Richie Rodger (11 points, seven rebounds and three assists) both contributed three triples. Sam Timmins (13 points, 11 rebounds) picked up a double-double in the loss, whilst Luke Aston had six points and two rebounds in the top performer off the bench in defeat.

Wellington Saints have two more games left despite securing top spot, able to manage players ahead of the Final Four with road trips to take on Franklin Bulls and Auckland Huskies. The Otago Nuggets have the one match left, hosting Canterbury Rams on Saturday night.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Saints shine in high-scoring overtime thriller, as Huskies grab second big win of weekend

WELLINGTON Saints have returned serve on Hawkes Bay Hawks to post a thrilling overtime win in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) last night, as the Auckland Huskies drew level with Otago Nuggets on eight wins following a memorable weekend of basketball. Whilst both contrasting results – the Saints winning by seven points after not being able to be split for 40 minutes and the Huskies dominating the second half to win by 23 – both were equally important for the Final Four calculations.

In the Saints-Hawks game, it was the visitors who raced off to a strong start in a high-scoring first term with 60 points on the board and a 32-28 lead in favour of the Hawks. They were hoping to win against the Saints for the second time in two weeks, but Wellington – despite playing in front of no fans – were not going to spoil their perfect home record thus far in 2021. The Saints quickly hit back with a dominant 30-17 second term to regain the lead by nine points and look to be in control. That was quickly whittled down by the Hawks who won the second term by seven, and they hit the front by three points in the last 10 seconds of the match.

Back-to-back Ethan Rusbatch free throws handed the Hawks a three-points lead, which meant Wellington needed a saviour. That came in the form of Tohi Smith-Milner who drained the three-pointer to level the scores at 98-apiece. The extra period was just as exciting, with the first eight points – including two triples to Taane Samuel – going the way of the Saints. From there they traded baskets, with Rusbatch and Jarrod Kenny both lively for the Hawks, though the Saints had the better composure as the experience of Kerwin Roach Jr and Dion Prewster to nail the free throws off the deliberate fouls handed them the seven-point win, 119-112.

Prewster won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) honours for a massive 34 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, coming agonisingly close to a huge triple-double in the win. Smith-Milner picked up a double-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, but it was the deadeye long-range shooting of Samuel – 12 of 14 from the field and six of eight from beyond the arc – who recorded 33 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Roach Jr (16 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists) and Kenneth Tuffin (10 points, four rebounds and two steals) also hit double-figure points.

Rusbatch had a team-high 27 points as well as two rebounds, whilst Hyrum Harris was a master thief on the night, racking up 10 steals, eight rebounds and five assists to go with 16 points. Devondrick Walker (19 points, three rebounds and three assists) and Derone Raukawa (16 points) reached double-figure points, as Kenny hit four of four from long-range on his way to 18 points and two steals, and Jordan Hunt managed 11 points, three rebounds and two assists.

Meanwhile in the more one-sided game, the Auckland Huskies overcame a one-point half-time deficit to post a big 23-point win. The visitors led by two points at quarter time, but lost the second term by three to head into the main break 40-39 down. The second half was a different story, piling on 30 points to 23 in the third term, then completely dominating the final one with 24 points to seven, and running out 93-70 winners.

Tom Vodanovich picked up another MVP with a huge 24 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks, scoring four of 10 from beyond the arc. Chris Johnson (23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) continued his wonderful season, whilst Justin Bibbs (16 points, six rebounds and four assists) and Zach Riley (11 points, two rebounds) also reached double-figure points in the victory.

For the Nuggets, Sam Timmins crashed the boards as expected, finishing with 21 points, 16 rebounds – 13 defensive – and seven assists, whilst Isaiah Moss helped out with 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Luke Aston (13 points, two rebounds and two blocks) and Richie Rodger (10 points, three rebounds and two assists) both providing some scoring assistance on the night.

Wellington Saints will play the Nelson Giants in a rescheduled clash on Wednesday night, before a second clash with Taranaki Mountainairs on Friday. Auckland Huskies also take on the Giants, on Friday night, whilst the Otago Nuggets host the Hawkes Bay Hawks on Saturday night.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Title contenders claim big wins in one-sided night of action

TITLE contenders Southland Sharks and Wellington Saints have established their top two positions on the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) ladder, with big wins in their respective matches overnight. The top placed Sharks won the first three quarters to take complete control over Franklin Bulls on their way to a 101-69 triumph, whilst the Saints bounced back from a loss to Hawke’s Bay Hawks last start, to win 89-63 in their home clash and retake the second spot Hawke’s Bay had snatched from them.

Southland Sharks did all the damage early, piling on 32 points to 15, leaving the visiting Bulls on the back foot from the start, then added 21-15 in the second term to lead by 23 points at the main break. Needing a spark in the second half, the Bulls could not find it until the final term – which they won by two points – as the Sharks added another 29 points to 18 in the third, leading to the eventual 32-point victory, 101-69.

The Sharks won every statistic in the book, from field goal shooting percentage (47 to 36 per cent), rebounds (52-41), assists (20-17) and steals (13-6). They had seven less turnovers (15-22) and therefore more points from turnovers (25-18), and also had more points in the paint (46-32), second chance points (22-7) and bench points (33-22).

Josh Cunningham piled on 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win, as he grabbed the Most Valuable Player (MVP) from the match. Not far behind him was Courtney Belger (13 points, six assists and four steals) who also impressed, while Brayden Inger had the 18 points – four of eight from long-range – and six rebounds. Alonzo Burton (11 points, four rebounds) and Sione Helu (10 points, three assists and two rebounds) also hit double-figure points, while Toby Gillooly came close to a double-double of nine points and nine rebounds.

For the Bulls, Manel Ayol was the star with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, with a couple of fellow recent additions since the completion of the ANBL season also holding their own. Isaac Davidson (11 points, five rebounds and three assists) and Kyrin Galloway (eight points, 12 rebounds and two steals) both tried hard, whilst the Bulls’ old firm – being there since the start of the season – in Denhym Brooke (nine points, five rebounds and three blocks) also worked well in tandem.

Wellington Saints had an equally comprehensive win over Taranaki Mountainairs in a top-against-bottom clash at TSB Bank Arena. The Saints won every quarter in the match, starting off strongly to race to a 47-28 lead at the main break, then won the second half by seven points to claim a 26-point victory, 89-63.

The Saints were the more accurate of the sides (45 to 40 per cent field goal accuracy), also knocking down 11 three-pointers to six. They had more rebounds (48-28), assists (15-10) and steals (12-6), with the Airs winning the blocks (4-1). Wellington finished with more points in the paint (44-28), second chance points (14-7), points from turnovers (24-15) and bench points (34-20) in a real dominant effort.

It was incredibly difficult for judges to select an MVP from the match with seven players earning between six and three votes. In the end, captain Dion Prewster got the nod in the Saints’ winning performance, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists. Tohi Smith-Milner (15 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists), Kerwin Roach Jr (13 points, five assists and three rebounds), Leon Henry (13 points, 11 rebounds and two steals) and Ezrah Vaigafa (11 points, six rebounds) all picked up votes in an even team performance. Ken Tuffin was another one who contributed strongly with 13 points and six rebounds.

Tai Wynyard tried his hardest for the Airs with 15 points, four rebounds and two steals, grabbing MVP votes in the heavy loss with Baxter Fenwick (10 points, two rebound) Marcel Jones had a quieter night, only shooting two of nine from the field on his way to 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Francis Mulvihill (seven points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals) was the other player who did his best in the loss.

Both the losers will have to regroup themselves for matches today as Franklin Bulls and Taranaki Mountainairs both hit the road to take on Otago Nuggets and Canterbury Rams respectively. The Wellington Saints take on Nelson Giants next Friday night, with Southland Sharks hosting Auckland Huskies on the Saturday night.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Hawks swoop against Saints as Nuggets’ Giant first half secures win over Nelson

HAWKES Bay Hawks swooped on the Wellington Saints early to post an impressive win in the 2019 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) finals rematch, whilst the Otago Nuggets spoiled the Nelson Giants’ 40th birthday celebrations in the other match. Both games saw the eventual winners storm to a big lead early, and shake up the ladder, as the top four teams now sit a game clear of the rest of the competition.

In the top three clash, Hawkes Hay Hawks leapfrogged the Wellington Saints to hand their opponents only their second loss for the season. Moving into second spot on the ladder, the Hawks did so by taking control from the opening tip-off and leading 23-12 at the first break. The Saints predictably clawed their way back into the contest, winning the second term by six points and the third by three, but the home team steadied when it counted to win the last stanza by four, and the match by six, 88-82.

Hawkes Bay shot at a more accurate 49 per cent from the field, compared to the Saints’ 41 per cent. They won the rebounds (39-37), points in the paint (38-34) and second chance points (15-8) on the night. The Saints had their fair share of the ball, with one more assists (18-17) and steals (6-5), as well as more blocks (6-1) and less turnovers (10-13), leading to an even share of the points from turnovers (11-11), but the Saints produced more points off the bench (17-9).

It was an even team performance from the Hawks, with Devondrick Walker (20 points, four rebounds) marginally winning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award from the match, shooting four of seven from long-range. Hyrum Harris (18 points, seven rebounds and four assists) was not far behind, whilst Rhys Vague (15 points, three rebounds and two assists), Derone Raukawa (14 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals) and Ethan Rusbatch (12 points, five rebounds and three assists).

For the Saints, Tohi Smith-Milner top-scored with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, whilst the long-range shooting deadeye of Taane Samuel managed four of five from beyond the arc to finish with 14 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Kerwin Roach Jr (18 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Dion Prewster (14 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals) also impressed from the starting team, while Leon Henry contributed all the team’s bench points with 17 – five of nine from three-point range – as well as seven rebounds and four blocks in the loss.

The Otago Nuggets silenced the crowd early on a night where the Nelson Giants were celebrating 40 years in the competition, piling on 31 points to 19 in the opening term, then 23-18 in the second quarter to lead by 17 points at the main break. The home team sprung to life in the second half, winning it 47-40, but it was a case of too little, too late, with the visitors getting up by 10 points, 94-84.

Otago shot the lights out with 56 per cent of their attempts from the field going in, compared to the Giants’ 34 per cent. What made it all the more impressive was that the Nuggets had 25 less shots, but nailed four more than their opponents, including the same amount of triples (11) despite 19 less attempts (21-40). They also won the rebounds (43-41), assists (23-15) and blocks (5-0), and had more points in the paint (40-28). The Giants committed less turnovers (10-20) and therefore had more points from turnovers (22-12), as well as more second chance points (16-13) and steals (10-4).

Isaiah Moss won MVP with 24 points – five of nine from long-range – eight rebounds, two assists and two steals to lead the way, whilst Gerasimos McKay picked up 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists on the night. Sam Timmins continued his hot streak with a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds – 11 defensive – as well as five assists, two steals and two blocks, while Richie Rodger had the 11 points, seven assists and two rebounds.

For the Giants, Hunter Hale had 21 points, five assists, five steals and two rebounds, just ahead of Sam Dempster (19 points, seven rebounds and two assists) Thomas Ingham (11 points, four rebounds) also hit double-figure points from the starting line-up, whilst Nic Trathen contributed his usual long-range shooting from the bench with three of five going in from long-range on his way to 13 points and three rebounds.

Wellington Saints front up tonight up against the Taranaki Mountainairs, whilst the Hawkes Bay Hawks take on Manawatu Jets tomorrow, whilst the Otago Nuggets also play then against Franklin Bulls. The Nelson Giants have an extended break until lJune 25 when they lock horns with the Saints.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL