Round seven of the NBL began with the top of the table clash between the unbeaten Otago Nuggets and the Wellington Saints. The Saints welcomed back Corey Webster (188-G-88, college: Lambuth) after injury but were denied the services of import Andrew Warren, suspended for the tie having been ejected from the previous game against the Super City Rangers. Websters two week absence certainly didnt affect his scoring as he contributed 17 of the Saints first half points, the home team leading 50-42 at the break. The lead for the Saints fluctuated between four and nine points in the third quarter, the Nuggets still in contention with ten minutes remaining. Hayden Allen scored the first 5 points of the final period to drag the Nuggets to within a single point of the Saints but Webster replied with the same output and try as hard as they could, the league leaders were unable to threaten last seasons finalists, the Saints winning 102-93. Allen (22 points) led the scoring for the Nuggets and BJ Anthony, the leagues leading scorer contributed18 points but significantly he was restricted to just four second half points. Webster had a game high 32 points for the Saints.
On Thursday night the Nuggets were able to redeem themselves by defeating the Waikato Pistons 97-80 in Hamilton. Midway through the third period the Pistons trailed by just four points but a 13-0 run by the Nuggets put paid to any notion that the home side might record their first win of the season. Two of the most productive centres in the league went head to head and it was Otagos Antoine Tisby who shaved the contest. He had 36 points and 13 points compared with Zack Atkinsons 23 points and 13 rebounds. Young guard Marco Alexander scored a career high 29 points for Waikato and added 7 steals for good measure. The Nuggets record improved to 9-1 and almost certain qualification for the end of season play offs.
The Nelson Giants secured a significant away victory at Palmerston North defeating the Jets 89-77, giving them outright second place on the table. At half time the Giants led 34-33 but quickly raced to a ten points advantage early in the third quarter and maintained a double digit lead for the remainder of the game. Giants forward Mika Vukona led all scorers with 25 points (10 from 12 from the field) and he was ably supported by Erron Maxey (21 points) and Josh Bloxham (14 points). Troy McLean was the best for the Jets contributing 19 points. The Jets play three games in six days including the deep south double against Otago and Southland, it looks to be the round that determines whether they are top four material or mid table also rans.
The Wellington Saints travelled to Napier for their second game of the round. The HBS Hawks desperately needed a win to keep their play off hopes alive, however the Saints fired by 14 first half points from Corey Webster rattled in 29 points in each of the first two quarters to establish a commanding 58-34 advantage and the game was virtually over as a contest at that point. Things didnt get any better for the Hawks in the second half and the one sided affair ended with a 102-67 win for the Saints. This must have been a humbling experience for coach Tab Baldwin who in his long association with the NBL surely cannot have suffered a home court 35 points hiding before. His team was often reduced to one on one options on offence, shooting a poor 34% from the field captain Paora Winitana having a night to forget with 1 from 10. Problems for Saints coach Pero Cameron are of a slightly different nature. Former Breakers player Rick Rickert, after a season in Japan, has arrived in Wellington to contest the import spots with Andrew Warren and Bryant Markson. Both Markson (22pts) and Warren (17pts) had strong games against the Hawks and it will be interesting to see what, if any changes Cameron makes.
The final game of the round pitched the James Blond Super City Rangers against the Nelson Giants in Auckland. The Giants looking for their second win of the round and security of their second place on the league ladder began the game strongly. They were 17-10 ahead in the first 5 minutes, only Houston ORiley and Duane Bailey providing scoring punch for the Rangers. The lead was extended to 11 points by quarter time and 24 points, 61-37 by half time, Josh Pace and Brook Ruscoe providing the main attacking thrust for the visitors. The Giants were able to maintain their large lead throughout the second half allowing coach Liam Flynn the opportunity to give his bench players extended playing minutes. Pace scored a game high 24 points and Ruscoe and Erron Maxey 14 points apiece for the Giants. Bailey, 15 points/6 rebounds was valiant in defeat for the Rangers who also got lively contributions from ORiley and Josh Tuaiti.
Nelson (8-2), on the back of five straight wins is second on the ladder with the same record as the Wellington Saints. Southland Sharks and Manawatu Jets have an identical 5-3 record in fourth place.