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NBL wins for Otago Nuggets, Taranaki Airs

The Otago Nuggets and Taranaki Airs have opened their National Basketball League (NBL) seasons with hard-fought wins.

The Nuggets protected their home-court advantage in Dunedin with a thrilling 86-79 overtime victory over the Southland Sharks, while the Airs held off the Manawatu Jets 83-78 in Palmerston North on Saturday.

After Nuggets forward Matt Bardsley (17 points) tied proceedings at 76-76 with just five seconds remaining to force overtime, the Sharks were outscored 10-3 in the extra period to lose a contest they looked destined to win in regulation.

Callum McRae (12 points and 13 rebounds) put the Southlanders five points ahead with 90 seconds to play, only for Jack Andrew and Bardsley to pull the hosts level, Andrew nailing a corner three as the shot clock expired and 60 seconds later Bardsley’s driving layup levelling the scores.

Andrew and import Kimani Lawrence each scored 18 points but it was their crucial four points each in overtime that sealed the win for the 2022 champions.

The Nuggets scored the first seven points of the game before Alonzo Burton (12 points) got the Sharks on the board. However, with Lawrence and Ben Henshall (21 points) prominent, the home team was quickly out to a double-figure lead.

Kimani Lawrence
Kimani Lawrence scored 18 points in the Otago Nuggets win over the Southland Sharks. PHOTO: NBL

Marcale Lotts (14 points and 13 rebounds) and Callum McRae responded for the Sharks before Bardsley brought the curtain down on the first quarter scoring with a neat baseline move, putting the Nuggets ahead 26-18.

Bardsley was again to the fore in the second with a pair of steals leading to breakaway layups, although a couple of triples from Ben Hall ensured the Sharks remained in touching distance at the interval, trailing 46-38.

To the delight of the sizeable group of travelling Sharks fans, the Nuggets' eight-point advantage was whittled down to one following a Lotts dunk. McRae then tied proceedings, forcing Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere to call a timeout.

Henshall responded with five points but the battalion of the Orange Army were smiling at the last break, with the Sharks 63-58 ahead.

Those smiles were broad when McRae put them 76-71 ahead with 98 seconds to play but turned to frowns as Bardsley, Andrew and Lawrence thrilled the Edgar Centre faithful over the closing minutes.

The Nuggets will welcome back the exciting guard duo of Tai Webster and Dante Russo-Nance in the near future, potentially before their Week 2 game at home against the Manawatu Jets on Friday night (tip-off 7.30pm). The Sharks host the Jets on Wednesday night in Invercargill (tip-off 7.30pm).

Both the Airs and Jets were heavily dependent on their star bigs and the big fellas delivered as a see-saw battle in the post eventually fell in the favour of Sam Froling, only just, over over Tall Blacks forward Tyrell Harrison.

Froling finished with 29 points (13/21 FG) and 14 rebounds, while Harrison had a monster double-double with 16 points (8/11 FG) and 24 boards.

The first quarter began with Harrison and Froling trading baskets, but it was not just the bigs delivering, as imports Elijah Minnie and Mustapha Heron traded threes early as both teams felt each other out.

The threes kept flowing as Liam Judd hit another before attacking the rim for five straight points on his way to a career- and team-high 23 points (6/15 FG, 3/9 3pt, 8/10 FT) and six rebounds.

But things took a sudden turn for the Jets when import point guard Jasper Rentoy went down with a knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the game.

The second quarter started as the game did, with Harrison finding space inside, before Heron and Minnie traded highlight reel dunks that got the crowd to their feet.

The Airs turned the screws defensively, holding the Jets without a point for more than seven minutes as Mitch McCarron imprinted himself on the game with no-look passes that got the Airs offense flowing.

Sam Froling
Sam Froley had 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Taranaki Airs. PHOTO: NBL

Judd responded with a spectacular layup to reach 12 points for the half, before Froling again found some space to reach 13 points and nine boards, before Simon Lafaele hit a layup just before halftime to cut Taranaki's lead to eight.

After the break, the Airs came out strong as the lead again reached 12 points, before Judd again inserted himself into the action to with a three-pointer, followed by a three-point play that cut the lead to two. But Froling was not to be denied, hitting back-to-back buckets to give the Airs a five-point lead heading into the final term.

The fourth started slowly but then Heron scored eight straight points to give the Jets their first lead of the second half with just over seven minutes to play.

New recruit Derone Raukawa hit back-to-back buckets to retake a two-point lead, bedore Minnie again again connected from deep to tie the game at 75-75 with under two minutes to play.

Heron responded with free throws before Minnie finished a skying baseline dunk with a foul to grab a two-point lead. The Jets peppered the rim with three-point attempts that failed to hit the mark before Judd grabbed an offensive board and got fouled to head to the line with a chance to tie the game with 21 seconds remaining.

Judd only hit one of two, cutting the lead to one and all the remaining scoring was done by the Airs, wrapping up coach Sam Mackinnon’s first NBL win.

Otago Nuggets 86 (Ben Henshall 21, Kimani Lawrence 18, Jack Andrew 18, Matthew Bardsley 17) Southland Sharks 79 (Josh Turner 16, Marcale Lotts 14, LaGerald Vick 14, Alonzo Burton 12, Callum McRae 12). 1Q: 26-18, HT: 46-38, 3Q: 58-63, 4Q: 76-76

Taranaki Airs 83 (Sam Froling 29, Elijah Minnie 24, Mitch McCarron 11) Manawatu Jets 78 (Liam Judd 23, Mustapha Heron 21, Tyrell Harrison 16, Campbell Scott 10). 1Q: 20-21, HT: 43-35, 3Q: 60-55


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