With 4:56 remaining, the Jets appeared to not only have the game completely under control but it also looked possible they could turn around the 29 points differential the Sharks had established by winning the first encounter 110-81 earlier in the month. Sharks coach Paul Henare called a time out at that point, his team trailing 84-68 and in need of some inspiration. Whatever was said had the desired effect as the Sharks piled in a remarkable 26 points in the remaining minutes and held the Jets to just 5 points of their own. Leon Henry (19pts) and Kevin Braswell (20pts) made nine points apiece during the run, the Sharks hitting a collective 82% (28/34) from the free throw line.
Earlier it looked as if Chris Hagan (27pts) and Marcel Jones (20pts) were pacing the home side to the win they required to keep their season alive but when the Jet’s key player Nick Horvath (11pts/15rebounds) fouled out with six minutes remaining the Sharks sensed an opportunity and pounced. The Sharks now look forward to a trip to the play-offs, the Jets reflect on a campaign that promised much but returned very little.
The other Friday night game pitched the third placed Nelson Giants up against the league leading Wellington Saints in the capital. The Saints were dealt a major blow before the game, point guard Lindsay Tait sidelined with a suspected broken thumb. Despite this set back the Saints were able to overcome the Giants, who had beaten them by a single point in round four.
The Giants were ahead by a single point at quarter time but it was the Saints with the advantage at the main break 55-48. Rick Rickert is looking like a terrific late season pick up for the Saints, he was virtually unstoppable in the low post scoring a game high 33 points at 81% from the field (13/16) plus 15 rebounds. Corey Webster (32pts/5 assists) more than covered the points shortfall created by the absence of Tait and Casey Frank also had a strong game contributing 9 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists.
The Saints had built a healthy 99-84 advantage with just 3:30 remaining and appeared to be cruising to victory but Nelson caused a few anxious moments for the good crowd at TSB Arena by scoring a quick ten points courtesy of Mika Vukona (21pts) and Josh Pace (23pts) to reduce the deficit to four points entering the final minute. However, Webster and Frank scored a brace of free throws each to enable the Saints to close out the game.
The Giants travelled north to Napier for a game against the HBS Bank Hawks and despite their loss twenty four hours earlier started the stronger of the two teams, establishing a 24-18 first quarter advantage. Josh Pace (32pts/9rebounds) was a constant thorn in the side of the Hawks and aided by Mika Vukona (14pts/10rebounds) the visitors established a valuable 56-44 advantage. The Hawks, who had inflicted on Nelson their only home loss of the season back in round eight, had much the better of the third quarter as Everard Bartlett (17pts) and Brian Greene (19pts) found their range, ‘The Bay’ slightly ahead, 68-66 with ten minutes to play. With 4:17 remaining they still lead 77-74 but baskets from Vukona, Pace and Erron Maxey re-established the Giants advantage. Brian Greene nailed a three with just over a minute left to tie the scores, Pace and Bartlett exchanged baskets before a typical athletic two points from Pace edged the Giants ahead in the closing seconds. Bartlett had the last shot of the game to win it for the Hawks on the buzzer but the near miss rather summed up the Hawks season, just four victories when much more was expected.
In New Plymouth Jack Leasure put on a show for the home fans scoring 33 points (14 from 22 from the field) to help his side to a 114-93 victory over the bottom placed James Blond Super City Rangers. Leasure was ably assisted by fellow import Kenny Gabriel (22pts/11rebounds). Brad Anderson and Ethan Rusbatch continued their recent fine form with 16 points each as the Taranaki Mountain Airs improved their record to 5-10.
Once again the Rangers had little trouble scoring, Duane Bailey had a season best 23 points, Carl Buck and Houston O’Riley 18 points apiece and Patrich Bolstad 12 points and nine rebounds but their defensive frailty has been their achilles heal all season as they have given up 97.7 points per game.
The feature game of the round pitched first versus second on the ladder, the table topping Wellington Saints visiting the Otago Nuggets. The hosts shaded the first quarter 19-16, centre Antoine Tisby contributing eight early points, his battle with Saints big man Rick Rickert one of the key match ups of the encounter. Mark Dickel gifted Corey Webster a couple of free throws early in the second quarter courtesy of a technical foul and when Webster nailed a three point attempt followed by another pair of freebies the Saints had regained the initiative, 32-26. The Nuggets endured a barren four minutes in which they failed to score but the Saints collected eleven unanswered points before Akeem Wright broke the drought. The Saints were once again without injured playmaker Lindsay Tait but at half time they were travelling nicely without him, ahead 47-29, a massive twenty one points swing in just ten minutes. The Nuggets did make a better fist of things in the third quarter shading it by two points but they never looked like threatening the Saints who took out the win 97-72 and with it the regular season title. Tisby (22pts/13 rebounds) was outstanding for the Nuggets but the usually high scoring duo, BJ Antony and Akeem Wright were not at their best scoring 12 points and 11 points respectively. Once again Rick Rickert recorded a double double of 11 points and 16 rebounds, Casey Frank posted 18 points and Corey Webster had 21 points although his 6 from 18 from the floor was not up to his usual high percentage shooting.
In the final game of the round the lowly Waikato Pistons entertained the Southland Sharks in Hamilton. The Sharks, on a five game winning streak were trailing 41-38 at half time but had locked the scores at 67 all at three-quarter time before dominating the final quarter to win 96-85. A 13-2 surge by the Sharks to open the final stanza put paid to the Pistons resistance for whom Tai Webster scored twenty points. Fellow youngsters Anamata Haku (13pts/6rebounds) and Marco Alexander (14pts/8rebounds) also made useful contributions. Brian Conklin, a contender for this seasons MVP title scored 32 points at 86% from the field (12 from 14), Reuben Te Rangi was prominent with 20 points and Kevin Braswell and Leon Henry were also in double figures.
With just one round to go the semi finalists are already established, Wellington Saints (13-2), Otago Nuggets (11-4), Nelson Giants (11-4) and Southland Sharks (11-3). The Sharks play both the Saints and the Giants next weekend perhaps hoping they can move up into second or third spot thereby avoiding Wellington