Round nine began with the second placed Wellington Saints (10-2) entertaining the HBS Bank Hawks (3-8). New Saints import Rick Rickert made a telling contribution on debut scoring 17 points and gathering 14 rebounds in just nineteen minutes court time. The scores were level at the end of the third period but a 28-16 surge from the Saints in the final ten minutes saw them home. Dillon Boucher and Brian Greene (29 points) were ejected after a fourth quarter altercation and both face a one game suspension.
The table topping Otago Nuggets (11-1) secured their first visit to the play-offs since 1997, defeating the Jets in Palmerston North 110-102. The victory was built on a powerful first half performance, the Nuggets amassing 66 points to lead by 22 at the break. The Jets looked dead and buried but led by Chris Hagan (28pts/7assists/5 steals) and Marcel Jones (27pts) they clawed their way back into the game to trail by just five points entering the final four minutes. The Nuggets kept their composure in the closing stages, the NBL’s two leading scorers, Akeem Wright and BJ Anthony seeing them home. Wright scored 33 points (13 from 17 from the field) and Anthony 28 points. Anthony has obviously been working on his outside shot – his stroke looks far smoother than it did last year and 3 from 4 from behind the three point arc is evidence his hard work is paying off. Interestingly the Jets back up centre Miles Pearce managed to foul out in just 10:15 playing time.
The Waikato Pistons had recorded a comprehensive victory over fellow cellar dwellers the James Blond Super City Rangers last week but in Hamilton on Friday night the tables were turned. With both teams boasting just one victory each the result was likely to decide the recipient of the wooden spoon. Unfortunately for Waikato they made a dreadful start trailing 37-51 at half time – the home team were not helped by import Garrius Holloman shooting just one from nine in the half. He and the team did improve in the second half and in fact trailed by just one point (72-73) with 5:30 remaining. However the Rangers held their nerve and aided by a Duane Bailey three and six points from Shea Ili in the final three minutes secured an 87-77 win. The trio of guards, Houston O’Riley (19pts), Carl Buck (18pts) and Ili (16pts) were outstanding for the Rangers. Once again Tai Webster (24pts) led the Pistons scoring and Zack Atkinson was his usual efficient self (14pts/18 rebounds).
On Saturday the Taranaki Mountain Airs v Southland Sharks fixture tipped off at 5pm to avoid clashing with the televised All Blacks rugby test. Not sure if it worked in terms of crowd support but it certainly didn’t work on the score board as the Sharks secured a vital 101-93 win. Taranaki shaded the first period 21-19 but were overhauled in the second period, the Sharks ahead 49-45 at the main break. The visitors extended their lead in the third in front 76-64, the import duo of Kevin Braswell and Brian Conklin doing a lot of the damage. The Sharks were still nine points ahead with 4:12 remaining but a three from Ethan Rusbatch and a pair of buckets from veteran Link Abrams brought the Airs within three points with 2:50 remaining. The reliable duo of Conklin (27pts) and Braswell (23pts) steadied the Southland ship, Leon Henry (20pts) and Luke Martin made free throws, and the Sharks moved a step closer to the play-offs. Jack Leasure accumulated 24 points for the Airs but the loss means they can no longer make the play-offs.The HBS Hawks entertained the Jets without the suspended Brian Greene and injured Everard Bartlett. They made a promising start to lead 20-17 at quarter time, Alonso Burton scoring 8 points. The Jets upped their defensive intensity in the second quarter and aided by back to back threes from Troy MacLean established a four points half time buffer and a 50-59 advantage at three quarter time. Chris Hagan (16pts) eased the Jets into a ten point lead early in the final quarter and the visitors were able to keep a double digit advantage to close out a comfortable 80-66 win. Dion Prewster had his most productive game for the Hawks, amassing 18 points and 16 rebounds and Nick Horvath was the best of the Jets knocking down 23 points and snaring 16 rebounds. The win keeps the play-off hopes of the Jets alive but the Hawks, whilst still have a mathematical chance of qualifying are realistically out of contention for 2013.
Josh Pace scored 10 first quarter points to help the Nelson Giants establish a 25-19 advantage over league leaders the Otago Nuggets in Nelson but there was a momentum reversal in the second period, the Nuggets taking it out 24-16 to lead by two points at half time. The third quarter was a tight affair, Otago ahead by the slimmest of margins, 63-62 with ten minutes to play. The teams were neck and neck in the final quarter the lead changing hands on several occasions. The Giants made their move with three minutes remaining; Mika Vukona blocked a BJ Anthony shot and then made a brace of free throws. Erron Maxey made a basket and suddenly the Giants were ahead 81-74 with just over two minutes to play. However the league leaders weren’t finished, Anthony and Wright making back to back baskets to trim the margin to 2 points. Brooke Ruscoe restored a four points advantage for the home side; Pace held his nerve at the free throw line and the Nuggets suffered just their second loss of the season going down 87-82. The Nuggets (11-2) remain top of the table and the Giants (9-3) strengthen their grip on third spot. Benny Anthony led all scorers with 24 points (9 from 14 from the field), Josh Pace, 22 points was key for the Giants as was Mika Vukona, 8 rebounds and 20 points including a perfect 10 of 10 from the charity stripe.
The only Sunday game of the round played at Trusts Stadium, Waitakere featured the James Blond Super City Rangers and the Southland Sharks, both teams seeking their second win of the round. The Rangers shaded the first quarter 24-21, the Sharks the second quarter 26-20. Four players had ten points at the main break – the lively Shea Ili and Patrich Bolstad for the home team and Kevin Braswell and Leon Henry for the southerners. The Sharks quickly stretched their lead, up by twelve points early in the third period as Brian Conklin found his range having sat on the bench for long periods of the first half after getting into foul trouble. Braswell committed a technical foul in the final seconds of the quarter to gift the Rangers a couple of points but the Sharks were still in control, 67-57with ten minutes remaining. The final quarter was a scrappy affair as turnovers increased and shooting percentages plummeted. Both teams shot below 40% from the field and combined, just 17% (7 from 42) from behind the three point arc. Conklin (25pts/15 rebounds) led all scorers and he was ably supported by Leon Henry (19pts). Jack Salt (14 rebounds) and Carl Buck (18pts) spearheaded the Rangers effort and Ili, surely on the Breakers radar as a development player, finished with 11points, 6 rebounds and 3 impressive blocks. It may have been scrappy but the Sharks will be delighted with their weekend’s work. Two road wins and a cemented place in the top four will have pleased coach Paul Henare.