Tag: zachary easthope

Jets defeat Airs in semi, set up top two grand final with Nuggets

THE Manawatu Jets have knocked out the Taranaki Mountain Airs in a fast-paced second semi-final 105-95, therefore earning the right to compete for the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Championship for just the second time in the club’s history.

MANAWATU JETS 34 | 21 | 12 | 38 (105)
TARANAKI AIRS 23 | 27 | 20 | 25 (95)


Having fallen to them in both of their prior meetings, the Airs had no intention of getting off to a slow start against the Jets. But to make sure they got off on the right foot, Doug Courtney’s side had to neutralise the newly crowned MVP in Thomas Vodanovich. Meanwhile for Manawatu, their priorities laid with halting the league’s most lethal duo in Derone Raukawa (led the League in points and assists) and Marcel Jones (led the League in rebounding).

Both sides traded buckets early on, exchanging the lead seven times in the opening five minutes in a seesawing opening quarter. Five straight points from Ashton McQueen seven minutes in, saw the Jets produce the first noticeable advantage in the game leading by eight with two minutes to go in the first. This was emphasised further after a triple from Nicholas Fee found its mark and as a result, Manawatu found themselves leading by double-digits at the first intermission and shooting at a remarkable 68 per cent.

Taranaki’s frontcourt started to make its mark on the game, as Shane Temara and Tai Wynyard got early buckets in the second, using their strong bodies to gain valuable second chance points. A 6-0 run for the Airs brought the contest back to just a single possession, but the stint was quickly undone after Hyrum Harris converted a momentum killing And-One. Nevertheless, a physical brand of basketball from both teams kept spectators on their toes for the rest of the first half. Even though Manawatu maintained an efficient shooting clip, so did Taranaki. This time it was the Airs’ backcourt that started to make the difference, with individuals like Raukawa and Kenneth Tuffin closing the gap at half-time.

If Zachary Easthope had not fouled Jayden Bezzant on his last second three-point attempt, the Airs would have only trailed by a single basket at the main break. However, that was not the sequence and Bezzant capitalised, making all three shots from the charity strike and gifting the Jets a convenient five-point lead. As both teams shot at 51 per cent, it was Manawatu that could thank their aggressiveness for getting their noses ahead, getting to the line 11 times compared to the Airs who shot just five free-throws.

On an individual level, Jones stood alone at the top of both rosters. The All-Star Five nominee secured 18 first half points and nine rebounds without a missing a second of play through 20 minutes. Meanwhile, guards Bezzant and Raukawa both made noticeable contributions with 13 points each for their respective teams. Wynyard’s size proved too much for Taane Samuel and the Jets early on, with a couple of baskets two minutes into the third and Temara provided the extra points where they were needed. This tied the game at 58 three minutes into the second half and the seesawing affair would resume again. A magical spinning floater in the key from Raukawa with three minutes to go in the third, gave the Airs the lead for the first time since the opening term. This was further compounded following an exquisite pick-and-roll between Jones and Wynyard, extending their fragile lead to three with a quarter to play and a critical quarter overall for the Airs, winning the term 20-12.

The duo of Samuel and Harris proved fruitful in the infant stages of the final quarter, helping their side even up the game and eventually retake the lead two minutes into the period. Then, a 10-0 run from the Jets capped off by a McQueen fast-break three, got Manawatu’s noses in front by eight and regained control back to Tim McTamney’s boys. Manawatu blew the game out of the water at the mid-way stage of the fourth, putting the deficit into double digits once again and forcing Raukawa and Jones to force their hands on numerous trips up the floor. With Taranaki in the bonus with more than four minutes still to play, it made closing the gap on the Jets that much more difficult, as they trailed by 10 in the dwindling moments of the game.

League MVP Tom Vodanovich would contribute to seven of his team’s final 11 points before picking up his fifth foul with a minute remaining, as consistent free-throw shooting topped off a well-rounded night for the Jets, eliminating a resilient Taranaki side 105-95 and earning their second ever Grand Final spot in club history. Even though the Airs shot better overall on the night, it was Manawatu that forced Taranaki to make an abundance of errors throughout the four quarters. While the Jets conceded eight takeaways in 40 minutes, Taranaki were induced into giving up the ball a total of 16 times, 12 of which were as a result of steals. In turn the Jets punished the Airs for this, scoring 25 points from turnovers, being a major factor in their side’s victory.

Vodanovich put together a team-high 28 points along with 11 rebounds, while Harris contributed another multi-faceted game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals accounting for more than half of the team’s steal totals. Another surprising participant for the Jets was big-man, Taane Samuel, securing 23 points and five rebounds in over 30 minutes on the floor. In their final outing, like so many times before, the Airs’ highlights came from predominantly two men. Raukawa who was a man on a mission found his way to account for 32 points and five assists, while his right-hand man in Jones submitted 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the loss.

Manawatu Jets’ forward, Harris credited the outcome post-game to a strong second half, noting a change in defensive transition and focusing their attention more on their scoring, but remains confident heading into the grand final.

“I think with us it’s just a mental thing,” said Harris. “We’ve just got to push through those sorts of calls and any stuff that happens, but I think we did a good job of it [tonight] and obviously we came out with the win.”

The Jets look to Saturday’s Grand Final looking to exact revenge on an Otago Nuggets team that has beaten them in all four of their previous encounters to this point (most recently by 25 in the qualifying final). Can Manawatu promote a different result the fifth time round? We will find out tomorrow night.

Final quarter thriller leaves Airs two games clear at top of the table

HIGH-octane offence combatted stringent defence, as Taranaki Mountainairs came out on top of the Otago Nuggets, 106-105 in one of the games of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. For much of the game, both teams took care of the ball, but it was Taranaki that took home the win despite a fierce second half comeback from the Nuggets.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 32 | 29 | 22 | 23 (106)
OTAGO NUGGETS 21 | 28 | 27 | 29 (105)


The opening night of week four action rounded out with what was promised to be the game of the season so far between the first-placed Taranaki Mountainairs and the third-placed Otago Nuggets. It is fair to say that fans were made good on that promise, and then some.

The promise of plenty of offence was certainly delivered with 53 points being scored in the first quarter. The Nuggets won possession off the tip which resulted in a missed dunk opportunity for Jordan Hunt, one of many shots missed at the rim for Otago. Marcel Jones opened the scoring for the game with a silky post-hook, as the reply came straightaway from Josh Aitcheson with the corner three.

Jones would continue to show why he is one of the best players in the league as he was stealing defensively, facilitating the offence with multiple assists, and banking in threes, it all seemed to be going his way early. His activity was contagious for his team as Taranaki was doing it on both ends.

With the starters beginning to have a break, it was the unlikely performances of bench players Denhym Brooke of the Airs and Matthew Bardsley of the Nuggets who would turn super subs for the quarter. Brooke would go five for five from the floor and end the quarter with 12 points, while Bardsley would drop eight, keeping the Nuggets in the game.

A Francis Mulvihill splash would intervene his efforts as the lead extended to double digits for the Airs. Jordan Ngatai’s only three points for the half would close out the quarter to end 32-21. An evenly poised contest with offence the clear difference. Taranaki was shooting 60 per cent and had twice as many assists than Otago for the quarter as its static offence needed to get moving as the game progressed.

A Jarrod Kenny splash started the second quarter and set the tone for he and the Nuggets as they outworked the Airs early. Kenny looked to score aggressively inside and out and another triple from him prompted a reply from MVP race leader Derone Raukawa, who earned three points the old fashioned way.

To typify a slow scoring night, a Ngatai air ball preceded a big Brooke put back and-one from the weak side, while the offensive explosion began to settle as both teams started to sort themselves out defensively.

Though the Nuggets made in-roads to the early deficit they gave up, another Mulvihill splash pushed the lead out to 12. Backup forwards in Brooke and Zachary Easthope supported Jones and Tai Wynyard, however, it would be Mitchell Dance that would take over, scoring six down the stretch.

Despite new inclusion Aaron Roydhouse knocking down his first shot in the competition from downtown, the Airs would maintain their first quarter lead heading into half-time up 61-49. Though they only shot 10 per cent less from the field, some inconsistent defence from the Nuggets allowed 29 bench points and 38 points in the paint for Airs. Brooke (15 points) and Jones (11 points, six rebounds, five assists) were important for the Airs while Hunt (11 points) led the way for the Nuggets.

Kane Keil opened the second half with a big triple in a quarter that would see him score eight. Hunt’s physicality inside would lead to a couple of baskets as the lead was suddenly back down to five. Much like the start of the second quarter, a renewed energy surge struck the Nuggets, but they were still unable to string that big run together that would see them within a possession of the Airs.

Ngatai forced his way back into the game late in the quarter with a smooth spinning layup and a three-point play, however, Raukawa going coast to coast and a Shane Temara dunk kept the scores at 83-76 heading into the last break. You still could not help but feel the momentum was with the Nuggets as it seemed the Airs starters were starting to fatigue.

The final 10 minutes were some of the most exciting basketball the competition has seen so far. Some big blows either way held the margin until the Nuggets stars in Ngatai and Kenny took control, while Bardsley was so vital down the stretch with his athleticism and hustle all over the court.

Kenny found his way to the line multiple times, but it was free-throws from Hunt that tied the game at 98-apiece with just over two minutes left to play. It was the first time the scores were level since the score line read 0-0.

A go-ahead basket from Kenny was answered with the double-double machine Jones hitting a jumper to tie, as he went back to back with a pretty floater to give the Airs the lead with one minute to play. As he had done all game, Keil came up clutch with a much-needed triple before some Kenneth Tuffin free throws changed the lead again.

With thirty seconds left, who else was going to step up? That’s right, the super subs of the first half decided to end the flurry they began with Bardsley laying it in, and Brooke doing the same to make the game 106-105.

The Nuggets had no timeouts left and went to their star player Ngatai who had some scoring left in him. His baseline teardrop narrowly missed as time ran out on the loose ball, handing the Airs the narrow but well-deserved victory in a thriller.

Jones (26 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three steals) and Raukawa (22 points, seven assists, 9/9 free-throws) put up another good performance as Brooke (17 points, seven rebounds) played big minutes off the bench. Temara’s (14 points, 12 rebounds) effort flew under the radar as Taranaki sit two games clear on top of the ladder. They face Auckland on Thursday and will be looking to continue their high-scoring winning ways.

Hunt (24 points, eight rebounds) and Kenny (20 points, eight assists) starred for the Nuggets as well-rounded games from Keil (20 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bardsley (18 points, eight rebounds) almost pushed them over the line. Ngatai (11 points, 28 per cent shooting) was quieter than usual and will no doubt come out firing in their match against the Rams on Thursday.

Giant second half and OT not enough for Nelson, fall to Airs

FANS who tuned in to see the Taranaki Mountain Airs take on the Nelson Giants witnessed a treat, as for the first time this season an NZNBL game would need overtime to separate two teams at the end of regulation, with the Airs squeezing out a hard fought victory against a wiley Giants outfit, 95-88, and moving back to the top of the league standings in the process of doing so.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 27 | 30 | 6 | 12 | 20 (95)
NELSON GIANTS 19 | 17 | 20 | 19 | 13 (88)


Heading into Thursday’s opening contest, the Airs were in marvellous form as Derone Raukawa was leading the League in assists and forward Marcel Jones was at the top of list in rebounds prior to their clash with Nelson. Furthermore, there was much anticipation between the matchup of Taranaki’s Tai Wynyard and Nelson’s Michael Karena, as both of these Centers looked to dominated around their respective baskets and gain an upper hand on one another.

With both sides trading baskets early, the two sides would be attached at the hip early on with eight points apiece, as neither side could gain a dominant grasp on the game within the opening minutes.

Following a successful three-point play and an easy layup via Zachary Easthope, the Airs could start to gain some traction in Thursday’s matinee, but Dane Brooks would answer back strong with five consecutive points of his own. This, on the way to 11 of his side’s 16 initial points of the game.

With numerous scoring runs headlining the opening quarter of play, Taranaki would have the last laugh, closing out the first ten minutes of play with an 8-0 scoring run, to lead 27-19 at the end of one, as Raukawa and Easthope’s seven points each led an 11 of 22 (50 per cent) shooting effort to kick off the contest.

A Jones spinning jumpshot and a Mitchell Dance hook shot extended the lead for the Airs to 12 continuing their scoring run to 12-0, which essentially set the tone for the rest of the first half.

As Taranaki hoisted a 14-5 run to commence second quarter proceedings, Nelson had their work cut out for them heading into the main break, as their struggle to find answers continued.

Despite the Giants leading in the three-point shooting category making five first-half triples from deep, the Airs were slaying the matchup from two-point range, converting 20 of their 31 field goal attempts (64 per cent).

Individually, Raukawa had another superior first half leading his side in points and assists (12 and four respective), whereas Jones was providing valuable contributions in most facets of the game and especially on the board, adding nine points, nine rebounds and three dimes to his side’s box score.

On the flip side, Brooks maintained his good play into the second quarter, concluding his opening two quarters with 11 points, four rebounds and three steals, as he had to figure out how to motivate his team to overcome a 21-point deficit in the latter half of the game, as the Giants trailed 57-36.

More of the same opened up the second half, as a mid-range jumper from Jones signalled a similar half to their first for Taranaki. However, a 14-0 run for the Giants pulled the deficit back to 11 points eight minutes into the third period following Zeb Lovell’s free-throws.

Jones’s hook shot halted the Airs’ run the next play, but Nelson just kept punching at the deficit, closing out a massive third quarter and outscoring Taranaki 20-6 in the ten-minute stretch of time, with the score at just 63-56 and the Giants forcing 16 turnovers to this point from the other team.

A flashy euro-step layup from Brooks was just what the doctor ordered to start off the last ten minutes for the Giants, trimming the Airs lead to a mere five points with Taranaki’s frustrations appearing to boil over.

Tysxun Aiolupotea’s back-to-back baskets brought the contest to just a single possession ballgame, helping Nelson to get in a position to knocking on Taranaki’s door halfway through the fourth. Succeeding this, both sides continued to trade successful plays, as Nelson struggled to complete their comeback, getting as close as a single point.

In the twilight moments of the game, Nelson made their final charge off the back of a Brooks three-point play with less than two minutes remaining, trailing by two points. With 30 seconds left, an Aiolupotea floater would send the game into overtime at 75-75, the first for the competition this season and completing the Giants’ run, which started late in the first half when they trailed by as much as 25.

To kick off the five minutes of post-regulation, Jones’s post-hook put the Airs on the right track which was further compounded by the fouling out of Thomas Ingham. Scoring the opening six points of overtime, Taranaki snuffed out the remainder of Nelson’s spirit following another Jones layup to cap off an 8-0 run.

The Giants rolled the dice one last time with a 6-0 run, before Raukawa’s eight made overtime free-throws would cement Taranaki’s second win in a row, taking out the result 95-88 and joining the Franklin Bulls at the top of the table with records of five wins and three losses.

In what was an honourable contest on the side of the Giants, their poor first half proved the obvious factor in their loss, trailing by 25 points at one stage. But highlighting a positive, a 39-18 second half from Nelson was a task many punters would have deemed impossible, as they almost conquered an almost insurmountable mission. Nevertheless, important late-game free-throw shooting by Taranaki was the major factor in holding off a rampaging Giants outfit, as they collected their fifth win of the season.

Nelson’s most notable contributor was obviously Brooks, following his 23 point, eight rebounds and six assists game, shooting at an elite 75 per cent efficiency (9-12) from the floor including three steals. Other contributors included Ingham (18 points and four rebounds) and Lovell (11 points and 12 rebounds), who racked up a hard-earned double double.

If history is any indicator, the performances of both Raukawa and Jones was to be expected all along. Firstly, for Raukawa, it was a night of consistency and focus, following his perfect night from the free-throw line (13-13) which added to his 24 overall points, suitably accompanied by his seven assists. Secondly, for Jones, converting nine of his 22 attempts would account for his 21 points, alongside his whopping 16 rebounds and further adding to his historic season to this point.

Next up for the Airs is the struggling Canterbury Rams on Saturday night, who are now more than ever hungry for a win. Meanwhile, the Giants can recover for Sunday and look to cut the distance between themselves and the Otago Nuggets for fourth position.

Airs get on top of Giants in season opener

THE opening game of Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown lived up to the hype, as both the Taranaki Mountainairs and Nelson Giants coming out with plenty of intensity and hunger from the first buzzer. Despite a couple of notable omissions, the Giants were unable to unlock their full potential but that did not seem to faze the Airs who exploited their opposition’s weakness with their scoring prowess. Despite tight first and fourth quarters, the Giants simply could not get within reaching distance of the Airs who capitalised on every opportunity that swung their way. In what was a high scoring affair, the Airs proved too good for the Giants, running out 16-point winners, (112-96).

TARANAKI AIRS 27 | 30 | 28 | 27 (112)
NELSON GIANTS 28 | 23 | 20 | 25 (96)


Feeling each other out in the first term, the ball bobbled about with missed shots and wayward passes swinging across the court. Airs’ Tai Wynyard opened not only the account for the Taranaki Mountainairs but so too the overall competition as the forward converted on the layup. Injury struck early for the Giants with Thane O’Leary quickly leaving the court with a dislocated shoulder. It was not until the four-minute mark that the Giants hit the scoreboard thanks to a free throw shot from Nicolas Trathen. From then on the Giants seemed to find their mojo, thanks to Trathen knocking back a three-pointer and spurring his side on. It did not take long for Francis Mulvihill to get involved in the action for the Mountainairs with the late pick-up well and truly delivering. The Giants built momentum towards the latter half of the quarter with their ball movement and pressure down the court forcing steals and conversions. After leading for majority of the quarter, the Airs fell behind in the dying seconds as the Giants took a one-point lead heading into the first change. 

The break paid dividends for the Airs, as Taranaki quickly getting into the rhythm of things and really kicking it up a notch, mounting a 30 to 23 points quarter showcasing just how dominant they could be on the scoreboard. Spearheaded by Mulvihill and Carlin Davison, the Airs found their groove both in offence and defence, gobbling up rebounds and finding the net with ease. As Mulvihill dished off dimes, captain Derone Raukawa led the way on the scoring front with his ability to drive to the basket and step back and sink them from beyond the arc. Although the Airs started to pull ahead the Giants hung on with everything they had largely in credit to Tysxun Aiolupotea and his strength across the court, hitting the scoreboard while Theo Johnson tried to inflict pain in defence with a couple of key rebounds. But it was to no avail as the Airs controlled the tempo of the game and held a commanding six-point lead. 

The second half followed suit with the Airs not letting up on their pressure and constantly on the look out for attacking forays knocking back 28 points to 20 in what was another strong showing. They were unfazed by whatever the opposition threw at them; Marcel Jones a brick wall defensively racking up a wealth of big rebounds. Up the other end, Shane Temara proved to be a handful with his ability to sink them from everywhere and his athleticism. The Giants did not hit the scoreboard until there was just over six minutes left in the quarter, a true testament to the pressure the Airs were applying across the court. Thomas Ingham was a strong presence for the Giants throughout the third term, while Aiolupotea was once again up to the challenge.

A strong final term saw the Giants put out a more competitive and spirited performance, something the coach would have been pleased with, but unfortunately it was not enough to stop the steam roll that was the Airs. Their key players continued their dominant ways, finding access to the basket whether it be from long range or inside the arc, while making it hard for the Giants to generate any easy ball movement and scoring shots. Zachary Easthope, Mulvihill and Raukawa were impressive while Trathen and Ingham delivered for the Giants.

Raukawa stunned, notching up an impressive double-double thanks to his top points scoring effort with 28 and 10 assists. Teammate Mulvihill also starred with 16 points and five assists while Wynyard managed 13 points. Jones fell just short of a triple double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. For the Giants Trathen top scored with 25 points and four rebounds while Aioluptoea managed 20 points and Ingham added 23 to his sides tally.

The Airs do not have to wait long for their second game, matching up against the Franklin Bulls tonight, whilst the Giants will face off against Otago Nuggets tomorrow.