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Nuggets top Saints; Airs rout Whai in NBL

The Otago Nuggets needed a big second half to remained unbeaten to start the National Basketball League (NBL) season.

The 2022 champion Nuggets outscored the Wellington Saints 49-33 in the third and fourth quarters to run away with a 105-98 win at Dunedin's Edgar Centre on Saturday night, improving to 3-0.

Australian swingman Ben Henshall again led the way for Otago, putting up a team-high 29 points (9/15 FG, 5/8 3pt, 6/6 FT), six rebounds and three steals, while new import Zaccheus Darko-Kelly had an impressive debut.

The American guard had 27 points (9/20 FG, 5/14 3pt, 4/5 FT) and eight boards, while import forward Kimani Lawrence had a valuable 24 points (10/19 FG, 4/9 FT), five rebounds and five assists.

Former Tall Blacks guard Tai Webster contributed 13 points (6/11 FG) and eight boards, and Kiwi centre Jack Andrew had eight points, 10 rebounds and two steals.

Tall Blacks forward Tohi Smith-Milner was on fire from deep, hitting eight triples as he scored a game-high 30 points (11/21 FG, 8/11 3pt) to go with 12 rebounds and two blocks, as all five Saints starters scored in double-digits.

Hyrum Harris recorded another double-double, with 16 points (6/9 FG, 4/6 FT), 17 boards and seven assists, Izayah Le'afa 15 points (5/14 FG, 5/12 3pt) and two steals, Lat Mayen 15 points (5/9 FG, 4/4 FT), and Ben Ayre 13 points (3/13 FG, 3/9 3pt, 4/6 FT), nine assists and four steals.

Ben Henshall Otago Nuggets NBL basketball
Otago Nuggets import Ben Henshall hit five threes in his 29 points. PHOTO: NBL

The Nuggets scored the game's first eight points but the Saints replied with a 12-0 run to lead 12-8. In a back-and-forth first quarter, Otago scored seven straight points to retake the lead, only for Ayre and Smith-Milner to hit back-to-back threes.

Wellington led by one at the first break but the Nuggets quickly went ahead again, before the Saints uncorked a 19-2 run to lead 58-44. The run started with two triples from Le'afa and ended with threes from Le'afa, Smith-Milner and Ayre.

The Nuggets cut the lead to nine by halftime and erased it completely with a 17-2 stretch in the third period to go ahead 79-75.

Tied entering the fourth, the teams exchanged the lead in the early minutes, with the Saints up four with under four minutes remaining. Sparked by seven points from Henshall, Otago scored 14 straight and held the Saints without a basket until the final seconds to clinch the victory.

The Nuggets (3-0) head to Pukekohe next to face the fellow-unbeaten Franklin Bulls (2-0) on Thursday (tip-off 7.30pm), while the Saints (2-1) complete their Southern Swing double-header on Monday (tip-off 7.30pm) against the Southland Sharks (0-3) in Invercargill.

Also on Saturday night, the Taranaki Airs made light work of league newcomers, the Mid-North Whai 88-55 in a one-sided contest in New Plymouth.

Australian Sam Froling scored a game-high 24 points (9/16 FG, 6/8 FT) to go with 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block, while Kiwis Carlin Davison and Flynn Cameron also made major contributions.

Davison had 20 points (9/18 FG, 2/4 3pt), nine boards and two blocks, and Tall Blacks guard Cameron 18 points (8/13 FG, 2/4 3pt) and six rebounds.

The Whai had just two players in double-digits, with Vance Jackson Jr going for 14 points (3/12 FG, 7/8 FT) and 3x3 Tall Blacks guard Jayden Bezzant 13 points (5/16 FG, 3/9 3pt). Import Phil Carr finished with nine points and 13 boards.

The visitors led twice in the opening minute but it was all Airs the rest of the way.

Turning the defensive screws, Taranaki led 29-10 after the first quarter and grew their advantage to 25 points by halftime. It stayed that way in a low-scoring third period, before the Airs pulled away further in the fourth, holding the Whai to an NBL-low 55 points and 31 percent shooting.

The Airs (2-1) are on the road against the Saints (2-1) next Sunday (tip-off 6.30pm), while the Whai (1-2) return to Tauranga to face the Sharks (0-3) earlier the same day (tip-off 3pm).

Otago Nuggets 105 (Ben Henshall 29, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 27, Kimani Lawrence 24, Tai Webster 13) Wellington Saints 98 (Tohi Smith Milner 30, Hyrum Harris 16, Lat Mayen 15, Izayah Le'afa 15, Ben Ayre 13). 1Q: 29-30, HT: 56-65, 3Q: 81-81

Taranaki Airs 88 (Sam Froling 24, Carlin Davison 20, Flynn Cameron 18) Mid-North Whai 55 (Vance Jackson Jr 14, Jayden Bezzant 13). 1Q: 29-10, HT: 50-25, 3Q: 66-41


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